When Apple founder Steve Jobs passed away in 2011, a little bit of the tech industry's soul died with him. While his successor Tim Cook has admittedly made the company much more profitable, gone are the days when Apple's spirit of innovation would periodically send popular culture spinning on its axis. Since then, everything's been a little, well, boring. Not least when it comes to phones.
Apple has continued to tweak the iPhone, bit by bit, but the release of a new model such as the iPhone 14 hardly sets the heart afluttering like it once did. And while the market is full of capable Android rivals (see our best camera phones guide for your options), none have exactly broken the mould design-wise, preferring to largely replicate the best of the iPhone, just at a lower price.
Suddenly, though, things are changing, thanks to a new-ish company called Nothing (opens in new tab).
What is Nothing?
Nothing is a London-based tech company founded in 2020 by Swedish entrepreneur Carl Pei, the co-founder of Chinese electronics giant OnePlus. It's attracted some big-name investors including iPod inventor Tony Fadell, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman and YouTuber Casey Neistat.
Nothing's mission statement is: "No confusing tech-speak. No silly product names. Just artistry, passion and trust. And products we’re proud to share with our friends and family. Simple. Because beautiful tech shouldn’t be complicated."
To put flesh on those bones, it launched its first product, a set of wireless earbuds called ear (1) (opens in new tab), last July. Priced at $99, the earbuds attracted mixed reviews in terms of actual audio quality. But everyone agreed that their radical, transparent design was a thing of beauty. And sales success followed, with the company reaching 100,000 sales within the first two months alone.
That could be nothing, though, compared to what's coming next.
Dawn of the Nothing Phone
In March, Nothing announced the forthcoming release of its first smartphone, Phone (1) (opens in new tab). Then, following a mountain of hype and build-up, the device was opened for pre-order late last week, on 24 June.
Like the earbuds, Phone (1) boasts a transparent look that really makes it stand out from the crowd. And although we don't know much about what's inside, that hasn't stopped a ton of people signing up for pre-orders, which require a non-refundable deposit of £20.
The Nothing Phone will only be available in Europe, the UK, Japan and India for now – not North America. Even so, after only two days, the number of pre-orders had exceeded 100,000. At time of writing, it stands at 174,020 and rising.
We'll learn a lot more when the official launch takes place on 12 July at 8am PT / 11am ET / 4pm BST, with an online event that's likely to recall the glory days of Steve Jobs for global hype. In the meantime, the internet is buzzing with speculation and alleged leaks about the phone's specs will be. But to our minds, that's kind of missing the point.
Why Apple should worry
What Nothing has done is made people excited about the launch of a new phone, and when was the last time anyone could say that?
And what people are largely excited about is not something mundane like the number of megapixels in the camera, or cores in the processor. It's about the fact that Nothing is reimagining what a phone looks and feels like... something few brands have even attempted in a decade.
In the meantime, Apple has kept driving up the price of its premium phones, safe in the knowledge that for many young people, the iPhone is not a utilitarian tech device (and not just all about making the best iPhone for photography), but a fashion item. And that fashion status has remained virtually unchallenged for the last 10 years.
And that's not all. In a tech world that's increasingly become about dry numbers, Nothing's mission statement is packed with the kind of passion Steve Jobs was known for, and used to inspire in others. "You can feel something is wrong with tech," they insist, and urge you to: "Undo. Unfollow. And unlearn everything the industry has taught you. It changes now. With Phone (1)."
Whether it will, of course, remains to be seen. The phone might be a dud, and we might all soon forget about it.
But what's important is that Nothing has opened the door to a new future, in which phone makers don't just slavishly ape Apple, but play them at their own game when it comes to visual design, hype and raw passion And once that genie is out of the box, it becomes difficult to put it back in.