Innovation, inside-out: Nothing Phone (1) seeks to radicalise smartphone tech

With the much-awaited release of the Nothing Phone (1) around the corner, the brand’s CEO Carl Pei drops the phone’s design details at its showcase during the Art Basel in Switzerland.

by STIRworldPublished on : Jul 06, 2022

Days before the launch of London-based consumer tech company, Nothing's first phone, its co-founder Carl Pei tweeted, "Nothing is real". The second best thing the Swedish internet entrepreneur did here was build a certain 'suspense' and feed his audience with curiosity. The first has to be finding ways to reinterpret the leanings of the tech industry, ushering in one of the most talked about radical tech reinventions of our times. On leaving the Chinese company, OnePlus in 2020, which he co-founded, Pei set out to “make tech fun again”, and founded the new hardware venture. Received with much fervour by tech enthusiasts, its first product, Ear (1) revealed the brand’s distinct design motif - making technology transparent, quite literally. While the inquisitiveness, discussions, and anticipation regarding the start-up that debuted in the market standing against all-time giants like Apple and Samsung was still gaining momentum, earlier this year, Nothing dropped hints of them developing a phone. Even when a statement of launching a tech-based product of such a scale in the face of fierce competition especially from Chinese brands seems daring, especially for a brand that isn’t even two yet, Pei seems to have gone all-in for developing, and equally hyping his idea of a phone that is completely new.

  • The consumer tech company unveiled the design of Nothing Phone (1) at the Art Basel in Switzerland | Phone (1) | Nothing | STIRworld
    The consumer tech company unveiled the design of Nothing Phone (1) at the Art Basel in Switzerland Image: Sanjeev Velmurugan
  • Giving people the opportunity to own a piece of Nothing’s history, the first 100 serialised units are being auctioned on StockX | Phone (1) | Nothing | STIRworld
    Giving people the opportunity to own a piece of Nothing’s history, the first 100 serialised units are being auctioned on StockX Image: Sanjeev Velmurugan

Launched to a private audience during Art Basel in Switzerland on June 16, 2022, the Nothing Phone (1) looks raw, radical and innovative - a gadget that can be instantly linked to retro-futuristic, even cyberpunk scenarios. Though not a lot about the phone is known yet, the design itself unveils much attention to detail and a new perspective to innovation. Said to be inspired by Massimo Vignelli and his modernist map of the New York subway system, the aesthetic expression of the phone comes alive along its back. In what many may claim to be a rather pompous strategy, that of tech brands focused on consumption with recurring iterations as opposed to a long term overhaul, the Nothing Phone (1) claims to be "a wake-up call for the industry". Featuring a transparent back with a unique mechanical design, Nothing Phone (1) reveals the device’s inner circuitry, bringing forward a design which seems to leap above conventional new launches, circling around bigger screens and shifting camera positions. 

  • Nothing phone (1) is the second device in the company’s product ecosystem built for seamless connectivity | Phone (1) | Nothing | STIRworld
    Nothing phone (1) is the second device in the company’s product ecosystem built for seamless connectivity Image: Courtesy of Nothing
  • The design features a transparent back with a unique mechanical design | Phone (1) | Nothing | STIRworld
    The design features a transparent back with a unique mechanical design Image: Courtesy of Nothing

Though the initial discourse about the smartphone's boxy design, curved at the edges but extruded without curvature, widely compares to the iPhone, its Glyph interface has the potential to be a game changer. With the intent to bring back the excitement associated with unwrapping a new gadget, the Glyph interface syncs the light at the back of the phone to flash in certain configurations to custom sounds. The feature enables users to accustom themselves to notifications, messages, charging status, and calls through the light patterns without looking at the screen.

  • The Glyph interface syncs light in the back of the phone to flash in certain patterns as configured for required notifications | Phone (1) | Nothing | STIRworld
    The Glyph interface syncs light in the back of the phone to flash in certain patterns as configured for required notifications Image: Courtesy of Nothing
  • The hardware integrates with software through bespoke fonts, colours, graphical elements, and sounds | Phone (1) | Nothing | STIRworld
    The hardware integrates with software through bespoke fonts, colours, graphical elements, and sounds Image: Courtesy of Nothing
  • To reduce the initial carbon footprint, Phone (1)’s frame is made from recycled aluminium  | Phone (1) | Nothing | STIRworld
    To reduce the initial carbon footprint, Phone (1)’s frame is made from recycled aluminium Image: Courtesy of Nothing

Along with its rather ‘cool’, acquired appearance and quasi-futurist aesthetic, the Glyph interface also seems to be one of the smartest traits of the device. With more customisations and features in tow, the brand states this to only be the beginning of the interface’s evolving design journey. Running on Android 12, Nothing OS is expected to bring the best of Android for a more user-centric and experiential operation. Building on the company’s founding mission, Nothing OS is said to have an open and seamless ecosystem to effortlessly connect with other Nothing products. In an attempt to reduce the initial carbon footprint of the product, the robust frame is made from 100 per cent recycled aluminium, and over 50 per cent of the phone’s plastic components are made with bio-based or post-consumer recycled materials.

  • Phone (1): First iteration of the lock screen | Phone (1) | Nothing | STIRworld
    Phone (1): First iteration of the lock screen Image: Courtesy of Nothing
  • Phone (1): First iteration of the home screen | Phone (1) | Nothing | STIRworld
    Phone (1): First iteration of the home screen Image: Courtesy of Nothing
  • Phone (1): First iteration of the display screen | Phone (1) | Nothing | STIRworld
    Phone (1): First iteration of the display screen Image: Courtesy of Nothing
  • Phone (1): First iteration of the widgets on display | Phone (1) | Nothing | STIRworld
    Phone (1): First iteration of the widgets on display Image: Courtesy of Nothing

Adding to the already iconic inside-out design and coherent interface, Nothing uses the dot-matrix font on its display screen and widgets to resonate with the brand’s logo. Though the initial iterations of the display screen show strip-back minimalist animations, design consistency, smooth transitions, and an overall uniform experience, it is yet to be discovered whether they translate to a user-friendly operation. While sharing his excitement for the launch, CEO and co-founder of Nothing, Carl Pei states, “For years now, it felt like all the artists had left the industry. All we are left with are cold, unexciting, and derivative products. It was time for a fresh take.”

  • Nothing OS captures the best features of pure Android | Phone (1) | Nothing | STIRworld
    Nothing OS captures the best features of pure Android Image: Sanjeev Velmurugan
  • In the highly corporate ecosystem of the tech industry, Nothing aims to transform the relation that the users have with technology | Phone (1) | Nothing | STIRworld
    In the highly corporate ecosystem of the tech industry, Nothing aims to transform the relation that the users have with technology Image: Sanjeev Velmurugan

Though the design of Phone (1) doesn’t outwardly reference an architectural character, between the mentions of the New York subway map of the 1970s and the usage of transparency to reveal the inner engineering, workmanship, and material constitution of the device , it is hard for the architectural mind to not peek at the similarities the device extends towards architecture’s inside-out, manifested in the early tenets of modernism, and the post-modernism of the late 70s. Though not entirely physically, in Pei’s attempt to create an iconic design for the tech world, his driving inspirations seem to be rooted in the rather revolutionary ideologies of the architectural world.

The Nothing Phone (1) is all set to be revealed during the Nothing: Return to Instinct event on July 12, 2022.

The CEO and co-founder of Nothing, Carl Pei | Phone (1) | Nothing | STIRworld
The CEO and co-founder of Nothing, Carl Pei Image: Courtesy of Nothing

(Text by Sunena V Maju, intern at STIRworld)

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