The Nothing Smartphone Could Drop Next Month

Nothing ventured, Nothing gained, and for Carl Pei's post-OnePlus project it seems a long-rumored smartphone really is on the cards for its 2022 expansion. Expectations for Pei's hype-inspiring startup were significant, though the transparent Nothing Ear (1) earbuds – albeit generally well-reviewed – didn't quite deliver what phone fans were hoping for.

Of course, the smartphone nut is a tough one to crack. What once were mainstays of the industry, like LG and HTC, have either conceded defeat or at least dwindled to a bare shadow of their former selves. High profile attempts at disruption, meanwhile, have similarly struggled: controversy around Andy Rubin may have put the final nail in Essential's casket, but it's not like the Essential Phone itself was setting sales records before that.

Still, Pei has more than a little lingering credibility from his time at OnePlus, and the Nothing founder has been slyly dropping smartphone hints for some time. The company had at least three products on the roadmap, it had confirmed previously, and tweets in mid-February indicated some partnerships were coming together. When Pei got replies from the official Android and Qualcomm Snapdragon accounts, the plot thickened.

A potential April reveal

According to TechCrunch, we won't need to wait much longer to see what's actually happening. The Nothing smartphone has been in development for more than a year, sources tell the site, and Pei has apparently been showing off a prototype in private meetings at Mobile World Congress 2022 this past week. That includes time with Qualcomm's chief executive, Cristiano Amon.

The upshot of this meet-and-greet schedule could be a big reveal of the Nothing phone as soon as next month, TechCrunch says its sources are suggesting. Nothing itself declined to comment.

Exactly what to expect is similarly mysterious at this point. The Ear (1) earbuds delivered fairly standard specifications for the true wireless segment, albeit at a competitive $99 price that significantly undercut rival models like Apple's AirPods. However it was styling that really set them apart, with a partially-transparent casing to the buds and their matching charging case.

A clear case of design ambition

The Nothing Phone, it's said, will follow with a similar design language. Just how much transparency that might mean remains questionable: after all, what you can see inside depends on how the notoriously-cramped guts of the smartphone are laid out. With the battery typically the largest single component, not to mention one of the blander elements by aesthetic measure, a window into Pei's latest project may not have quite the raw geek appeal some might assume.

That's not to say it isn't possible, if a manufacturer insists upon it being a feature. Nubia's RedMagic 6S Pro Ghost edition, launched in late 2021, featured a partially-transparent rear panel, though the company also paired that with a colorful RGB-illuminated fan. Earlier still, Xiaomi's Mi 8 Explorer Edition took a much simpler route in 2018: a graphic on its rear that just made it look like it was a window into what was going on inside.

Making a smartphone is easy - supporting it is hard

The reality remains, though, that persuading someone to give up their Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy is going to be a lot harder than getting them to give a set of cheap wireless earbuds a try. It would also put Pei & Co. right back onto the Android update treadmill: after all, selling a modern phone isn't just about the software it launches with, but the updates and patches you promise too. We've seen Motorola (rightly) criticized for skimping on that with its new – and expensive – Edge Plus, while Samsung earned kudos for committing to up to four years of Android OS updates for its latest Galaxy S22 series.

Nothing does have a considerable war chest to count upon, with $70+ million in prior raises. Figures released earlier this year, meanwhile, suggested 400,000 pairs of Ear (1) earbuds had already been sold. Nonetheless, the smartphone industry has chewed up and spat out some big names already, and it'll take every bit of Pei's experience and reputation if the Nothing phone is to live up to expectations.