Nothing announced it was developing on a phone in March of this year, with a target release date of summer 2022. Instead of being the pinnacle of oppressive corporate omnipotence that it appears to have become in recent years, the London-based start-up is premised on the audacious aim to redefine our relationship with technology, or make tech enjoyable again.’ The company’s initial product, the Ear (1) earphones, received positive feedback and is outperforming market forecasts. Building a Nothing phone, on the other hand, has exposed the team to design, engineering, and supply issues like never before.
Nothing Phone (1): Expectations
We talked to CEO Carl Pei and head of design Tom Howard about the upcoming Nothing Phone (1) and what customers may expect from it.
To begin, the phone is likely to follow Ear (1)’s aesthetic approach, with a transparent casing that shows the device’s inner workings. ‘When you look inside practically any Android phone, they’re almost all the same,’ Howard observes. ‘Of course, the industry is always optimising everything they do, year after year, in order to squeeze the greatest performance out of the smallest area.’
Trying something different wasn’t easy. ‘From a design standpoint, we really wanted to bring the inside out,’ Howard explains, ‘and that required working with the engineers to build from the ground up.’ ‘A smartphone contains around 400 components that are constructed in layers. We wanted to highlight the “good ones,” the items we believed were particularly noteworthy.’
These included things like the camera and the wireless charging coil, but almost every path the design team took turned into its own adventure. ‘From a production standpoint, you’re looking at components that the end-user seldom sees, so you essentially have to rethink the entire manufacturing process to emphasise them,’ he adds.
The ensuing procedure is described by Howard as a “jigsaw puzzle.” His team used a famous diagrammatic reference point, the 1972 New York Subway Map by Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda, to assist in visualising how they were going to lay bare the device’s components. ‘This done a fantastic job of organising a really complicated system and finding out how to depict it in a beautiful way,’ Howard exclaims. ‘We also looked at a number of different subway maps.’
The Phone (1) will run Android on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon mobile platform, not least because the ecosystem is mature, polished, and familiar to a substantial chunk of the market. ‘We believe Google is already doing a great job,’ Pei admits, ‘but we’re focusing on the underlying connectivity, so your phone becomes a control centre for your digital life.’
That’ll also include bespoke wallpapers, widgets, and sounds, giving ‘Nothing OS’ a distinctive feel that dovetails perfectly with the hardware. ‘Part of our job is to tell the story of how things work,’ says Howard. ‘I think a really strong principle that we have is that design is not just ornament but that there needs to be a marriage between form and function.’
Aside from that, there’s the issue of not just how we use our gadgets, but also how we dispose of them. Phone (1) users may be persuaded to take better care of their gadgets by lifting the veil on the inner workings of something we’ve come to take almost wholly for granted.
Nothing was preceded by a period of extensive visual and creative language research, with the design team examining everything from film to fashion design. ‘Phone (1) and Ear (1) will obviously come from the same family,’ Pei exclaims, ‘and we will keep the same mentality when we fill out the remainder of our product line.’
The inherent beauty and intricacy of consumer electronics, according to Howard, is a core USP of Nothing’s approach. ‘Our belief is that items should appear easy at first sight, but the longer you spend with them, the more they reward you.’