I thought I had never met Carl Pei before, but he told me we did years ago when he, together with Pete Lau, launched OnePlus, the company he left to found Nothing Tech . I honestly don’t remember, although I do remember how interested we were in this Android upstart.
Now, years later, he is the CEO of this fledgling and highly-regarded mobile technology startup.
After an enthusiastic launch of the phone backed by the glyph 1, everyone is eagerly waiting for the second action of the small company: the Phone No 2, which is the first launch of the major smartphone in the US. Most expect it to arrive by the middle of the year. No one outside the Left knows what it will look like or what technology it will pack inside, beyond the promises of many premium components (I see you Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1).
I criticized the company but I was also curious. So when I got the invitation for a casual Nothing meet-up at a trendy bar in Brooklyn, with the promise that Pei would be there, I jumped at the chance.
Pei appeared carefree, wearing an oversized puffy black down jacket that somehow made him look younger than his 33 years.
Someone introduced me to Pei and after he reminded me that we knew each other quite a bit, we quickly fell into a deep and lengthy discussion about the phone market.
There is no pretense that I am conducting an official interview, which means I am not taking notes and I am not quoting Pei above. However, after we finished, I wrote down some memories and views that I can share here.
Naturally, I asked Pei if he had the Nothing Phone 2. He did, but wouldn’t show it to me.
When asked if it will change the previous design or go in a new direction, Pei said no.
What he told me, however, was that there were no plans or illusions about dominating the US phone market. Pei says Apple has it locked down (more so now than when he started at OnePlus).
Pei talks a lot about the need to change, but always within the practical limits of his small company.
None are based in the UK, but there are small teams in China, Taiwan, and Europe. These are manufacturers in India. There is no good variety in this way. It’s also backed, in part, by Google, which likely appreciates the way Nobody pushes the boundaries of Android phone design.
We’re talking about the Nothing Phone glyph and while I admire how it, along with the light, will show you the status of your charge, Pei clearly doesn’t think the transparent back is useful enough, at least not yet.
We dig into the ultimate smartphone features like fast charging, fast chips, and powerful cameras. But Pei said everyone is doing everything and trying to match competitors beat for beat is no way to survive. He describes his company as, more or less, a small fish in the ocean.
I mentioned how I love the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra for its 10x optical zoom, but Pei says his team is too small to compete with the camera innovation.
However, Pei’s plan is really the long game. Sell, for a while, boutique phones and build a technology brand around them. Not one that pushes the limits of possibility and plausibility like Humane wearables, but one that points to the next phase of computing, whatever it may be.
Pei’s Nothing carefully walks the tightrope between innovation and perfection. It shakes hard but not very far.
There is no doubt that there is something interesting and special about the No Phone 2, but not something that makes it impractical.
To support this slow, steady transformation, No expands into markets where it has the best chance of, if not winning, growth. India is a market. Some developing markets, however, such as Africa, may not seem like a good bet because they are looking for really cheap phones and don’t care about features like a visible back.
Pei is optimistic about No Phone 2 and tells me that progress is going well. How this develops, well, we’ll just have to wait and see.