The Nothing phone (2) is on the way, and the hype machine is going full bore ahead of its imminent launch in July. But in a different world, this phone wouldn’t exist.
No, I'm not talking about the potential existence of a multiverse (I really liked the new Spider-Man film), but rather that Nothing’s existence demonstrates one key thing: gadgets are boring.
Nothing is the perfect metaphor
Cast your minds back a couple of years to when Carl Pei started Nothing. From the concept earbuds that look a little like a pipe rather than something you stuck in your lug holes, the company has been going from strength to strength.
The ear (1) were quite the event, flipping the table on what people expected from true wireless earbuds, which was weird because, tech-wise, they didn’t bring anything new to the table. It was the transparent aesthetic that got people talking.
The phone (1) took the same see-through mantra, but the big selling point here was a light system. The attention to design once again made it a big seller despite its mid-tier performance.
Of course, we’ve moved onto the 5-star ear (2), and have the phone (2) coming up soon. This is a company that has made its name on design, not spec sheets. And regardless of all the top tier spec chasers out there, Nothing has made a killing.
The circle of life has slowed
Elsewhere, smartphones and earbuds have stagnated. It’s as if companies are playing it safe. The iPhone 14 line looks identical to the iPhones of the past few years, and based on recent rumors, the iPhone 15 is going to be more of the same (give or take a slightly curved body).
Google’s Pixel phones are going to stick religiously to its camera bar. Apple’s AirPods Pro are basically the earbuds equivalent of the two Spider-Men pointing at each other, and the leaked images of the Sony WF-1000 XM5 suggest something similar there too.
Everything slows to a crawl when people are screaming the loudest for something new and interesting. The people voted with their wallet — they love the transparent look of the phone (1) and ear (2) (also helps that they’re really good products).
Nothing at all…
But what do they actually bring to the table? Fundamentally, it’s all the same technology inside. In some respects, the offering of these devices could be seen as a little weaker than the competition (the phone (2) is set to have two cameras rather than the full three, and last year’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset). So what is the secret sauce here?
Easy: Nothing is making devices that are interesting to look at and hold. Going transparent and adding flashing lights doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is. That’s because of all the above. The fact that companies aren’t willing to break the norm is why even the smallest of innovations feel far bigger than they are.
So what am I trying to say here? It’s certainly not that Nothing shouldn’t exist. Its meteoric rise over the past couple of years based on a single-minded aesthetic has been a joy to cover.
But let’s be honest — if iPhones (and smartphones as a whole) took more risks in their design language and capabilities, we wouldn’t be jumping on the oncoming hype train for a product that is merely transparent and lights up.
Nothing is a reaction to the stale nature of consumer technology, and it will continue to ride this wave until someone, anyone, decides enough is enough with the status quo. It’s time for companies to remember that smartphones and headphones are not utilities like a washing machine. They’re supposed to be desirable devices that excite us.
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Jason brought a decade of tech and gaming journalism experience to his role as a writer at Laptop Mag, and he is now the Managing Editor of Computing at Tom's Guide. He takes a particular interest in writing articles and creating videos about laptops, headphones and games. He has previously written for Kotaku, Stuff and BBC Science Focus. In his spare time, you'll find Jason looking for good dogs to pet or thinking about eating pizza if he isn't already.