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After Carl Pei’s keynote, Nothing will have to deliver on everything

The CEO and co-founder of start-up brand Nothing has made some big promises, but so far has little to show for them. Soon, he will have to deliver.

The brand name Nothing naturally lends itself to jokes and puns, but when fans tuned into its much-publicised livestream on 23rd April I doubt that they were expecting to see, well, …nothing.

Although Carl Pei announced (in a pre-recorded message) that his new company would release its first-ever smartphone in just a few months, he did not show what it will look like, or even reveal any of its key specifications. Instead, we listened to rambling rhetoric about innovation – and fighting talk about the future.

According to Pei’s vision, we live in a doomsday world as far as consumer technology is concerned. Today’s product systems are “dull, closed, isolated.” New products aren’t exciting any more; nowadays we just see iterations, rather than any innovation; tech companies are not on the consumer’s side. Somewhere along the line we have apparently gone off track, and have now lost sight of a utopian vision of a technological future best embodied, apparently, by a quirky Carl Sagan parody video that was screened before the keynote.

Who can save us from this stultifying Skynet, which seems to have succeeded by virtue of just being deadly boring, rather than actually being deadly? As luck would have it, Carl Pei is apparently just the man for the job – a revelation he shared with us as the words “Chosen by History” flashed up on the screen behind him.

Mocking the fact that other smartphones excited their customer bases by merely changing the camera positions and increasing the size of the screen, Pei instead chose to enthral his followers by showing off a cryptic symbol in place of the actual smartphone, along with some print screens of a user interface that is hardly different from stock Android.

One of the key demonstrations of the event was the upcoming phone’s voice recorder app, because it’s got an interactive tape deck icon. Another segment of the presentation was dedicated to showing that the clock stayed the same when switching between the lock screen, home screen, and always-on display.

The executives at Apple – the multi-trillion dollar tech giant mentioned a handful of times as Nothing’s key rival – will surely be quaking in their boots.

Behind the bluster, there were admittedly the green shoots of some good ideas too. For example, a fully integrated tech ecosystem that cuts across all different brands on the market would undoubtedly be handy for consumers and could indeed spur competition among complacent manufacturers. But we need to hear more substance about such a concept before accepting that Nothing has the solution to it.

After having somehow managed to host a product announcement event without a product to show for it, Pei must ensure that the wait will be worth it. Up on stage, we listened to him imply that his new phone would usher in a design revolution similar to the one that saw physical buttons disappear and capacitive multi-touchscreens take their place.

Let’s be optimistic and hope that the brand really can deliver on such brimming promise; but nothing less than that will suffice if it is to keep its credibility.

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