OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei celebrates smartphone comeback

The Nothing Phone 1.

nothing

The co-founder of the Chinese smartphone brand OnePlus, Carl Pei, is back with a new phone – only this time with a different company, which is literally called Nothing.

Pei’s oddly named start-up officially unveiled its debut smartphone on Tuesday after months of hints and teasers about the device’s appearance. Called the Phone 1, it is the company’s second product launch to date.

Based in London, Nothing was founded by Pei in 2020. The company launched its first device, a set of wireless earbuds called the Ear 1, last summer and has sold 560,000 units so far.

At first glance, Phone 1 resembles Apple’s latest iPhones. The phone has a dual camera with two 50-megapixel sensors and 5G mobile connectivity, as well as standard hardware that you would find in a mid-range smartphone, such as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 778G+ chipset.

Unusual design

The most fascinating thing about Phone 1 is its design.

The phone has a transparent back that reveals a unique pattern of shapes and lines, or “glyphs”. The company says it was inspired by a modernist version of Italian designer Massimo Vignelli’s New York City subway plan in the 1970s.

Another unique feature of the phone is that it literally lights up when you get a call or an app notification. The device is equipped with 900 small LED lights that flicker intermittently along with a series of robotic-sounding ringtones when you receive a call from someone.

There’s also a feature called “Flip to Glyph,” which silences the phone when you turn it face down and only shows flashing lights when you get a call or notification.

In an interview with CNBC last year, Pei described Nothing’s product design as “retro-futuristic,” drawing inspiration from numerous themes ranging from vintage Sony products to luxe fashion designs.

The Sino-Swedish tech entrepreneur said he thinks modern hardware feels “cold” and that “innovation at Apple has slowed sharply,” which changed the world with the launch of the first iPhone in 2007.

price and availability

Aside from a few quirks and niche design features, there’s not much that sets the Phone 1 apart from most standard mid-range smartphones.

The most attractive part of the device is its price. Phone 1 starts at £399 ($473) for a base model with 128GB of internal storage, making it cheaper than the latest flagship phones from Apple and Samsung.

Rather than trying to turn the smartphone industry upside down by focusing on folding displays or 5G, Pei is relying on a strategy he pioneered at OnePlus — and creating hype with some unorthodox marketing and sales tactics.

Nothing will initially launch Phone 1 in a kiosk in London’s West End from July 16-20, before opening to the general public online on July 21 and at select retailers and carriers.

It will be available in more than 40 countries including the UK, Japan and across Europe – but not the US.

tough competition

Pei’s new cell phone will face stiff competition. Together, Apple and Samsung have a 40% share of the smartphone market. And smaller Chinese phone makers like Xiaomi and Oppo have gained significant ground in Europe.

Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, said making the launch of the Nothing Phone 1 a success is a “huge challenge”.

“The smartphone market is frighteningly competitive and dominated by Apple and Samsung, who have incredible resources,” Wood said via email.

“The rest of the addressable market is a firefight between numerous Chinese manufacturers desperate for market share, making it even more difficult for a new entrant to break into the segment.”

According to IDC data, smartphone shipments are expected to decline by 3.5% in 2022. The market is facing several headwinds, including a declining cost of living and ongoing global component shortages.

As a small, privately held start-up, Nothing doesn’t have the kind of cash that companies like Apple and Samsung can do without to strengthen their supply chains and keep international shipping going.

Nevertheless, the company has some well-known investors behind it. The company has raised a combined $150 million so far from backers including iPod inventor Tony Fadell and GV, the venture arm of Google parent Alphabet.

According to the company, more than 200,000 people have signed up for a waitlist to pre-order the phone. Some have even placed bids in excess of $3,000 for the first 100 units on e-commerce platform StockX.

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