Nothing phone (1): a radical reinterpretation of mobile tech

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There was no admitting it was running on a phone in March this year, with a launch date mooted sometime in the summer of 2022. The London-based start-up is founded on the audacious ambition of transforming our relationship with technology, or “doing technology”. fun again,” rather than the epitome of the authoritarian corporate omnipotence it seems to have become in recent years. The company’s first product, Ear Headphones (1), has been well-reviewed and exceeds market expectations. However, building a Nothing phone exposed the team to design, engineering and sourcing challenges like never before.

Under the covers: the interior components of a typical Android phone

Nothing Phone (1): what to expect

We spoke to CEO Carl Pei and Head of Design Tom Howard about the upcoming Nothing Phone (1) and what customers could expect.

For starters, the phone is expected to follow the aesthetic approach established by Ear(1), with a translucent casing that reveals the inner workings of the device. “When you look inside almost every Android phone, they’re almost all exactly the same,” Howard notes, “Of course the industry optimizes everything they do, year after year, trying to squeeze maximum possible performance in the smallest space.’

One of many design sketches of the new Nothing phone, developed in close collaboration with the engineering team

Adopting a new approach was not easy. “From a design perspective, we really wanted to make the interior pop, and that meant working with the engineers to start from first principles,” Howard continues. “There are over 400 components in a smartphone, assembled in layers. We wanted to celebrate the “goodies”, the things that we thought were really worth highlighting.

These included things like the camera and the wireless charging coil, but pretty much every avenue explored by the design team turned into a journey in its own right. “From an industry perspective, you’re looking at components that the end user normally never sees, so you almost have to redesign the entire manufacturing process in order to showcase them,” he says.

A close-up detail of Vignelli and Noorda’s 1972 New York City Subway Map, a key point of reference

Howard describes the resulting process as a “puzzle”. To help visualize how they would bare the innards of the device, his team examined a classic schematic reference point, the 1972 New York City subway map by Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda. “It did a really, really good job of organizing a very, very complex system and figuring out how to illustrate it beautifully,” enthuses Howard. “We also looked at many other subway maps.”

There is a circularity at play here. The ancestor of all modern transit maps is the 1933 London Underground map created by Harry Beck. Beck was a technical draftsman and his original map – drawn in his spare time – was partly inspired by the schematic view of electrical circuits, emphasizing the importance of connections and clarity above all else.

Nothing Ear headphones (1), presented here in black, are a great success

So will the Phone (1) redraw our mental perception of what a phone is and how it works? For Nothing, the unifying power of design is a crucial element of its brand.

“One of the problems we saw with the tech industry was that no one had a consistent way of designing products,” says Pei. “Outside of Apple, you can see their consistent vision. But if you had a table full of products from another manufacturer, you don’t really see it. From the start, we wanted to have our own very distinct and iconic design language.

The ear (1) established the baseline of the Nothing aesthetic

The launch of Nothing was preceded by a period of intense research into visual and creative language, with the design team studying everything from film to fashion design. “The phone (1) and the ear (1) will clearly belong to the same family,” enthuses Pei, “and as we complete our product portfolio, we will maintain the same philosophy.”

Howard thinks one of the key USPs of Nothing’s approach is the intrinsic beauty and complexity of consumer electronics. “Our philosophy is that products should be simple at a glance, but the more time you spend with them, the more they give you.”

First iterations of Nothing OS

The phone (1) will run Android on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon mobile platform, not least because the ecosystem is mature, polished and familiar to a significant portion of the market. “We think Google is already doing a great job,” admits Pei, “but we’re focusing on the underlying connectivity, so your phone becomes a control center for your digital life.”

It will also include bespoke wallpapers, widgets and sounds, giving “Nothing OS” a distinctive feel that goes well with the hardware. “Part of our job is to tell how things work,” says Howard. “I think a very strong principle we have is that design is not just an adornment, but there should be a marriage between form and function.”

First design sketches of the Nothing Phone circuitry (1)

On top of everything else, there is the question of not only how we use our devices, but also how we dispose of them. Perhaps by lifting the veil on the inner workings of something we’ve learned to take almost entirely for granted, Phone(1) users could be encouraged to take better care of their device, cherishing it for the myriad complexities it contains.

Nothing stays quiet enough about how it tackles this increasingly essential aspect of tech design, except that the phone’s frame (1) will be made from recycled aluminum to reduce its carbon footprint. initial. Watch this space for more details. §

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