OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei unveiled on Wednesday the name of his new venture Nothing, a brand focusing on consumer tech that will be based in London. The new company raised $7 million in financing in December and includes investors such as iPod inventor Tony Fadell, YouTuber Casey Neistat, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, and Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, among others. In an interview with The Verge ahead of today’s announcement, Pei declined to offer specific details on what form Nothing’s first “smart devices” will take. He also declined to say which companies Nothing plans to compete with. This is Pei’s second venture after he left OnePlus. Currently, a lot isn’t known about the new venture, the only thing the company announced that its first ‘smart devices’ will release in the first half of this year.
— Nothing (@nothing) January 27, 2021
Carl Pei’s plans for Nothing
Nothing plans to profit from selling hardware instead of software subscriptions, according to Pei. However, in the long-run a “healthy business” requires both good hardware and software, he told The Verge. To stand out in the market, Nothing will use “custom made” components in its products, Pei said. Nothing might focus on music and include manufacturing headphones, Wired reported in December
Carl Pei left OnePlus in October. He launched the Chinese consumer electronics manufacturing company in 2013. OnePlus first sold phones through an invite-only requirement and later adapted to a newer business model offering affordable and competitive phones. The company also produces other products such as headphones and TVs.
“It’s been a while since anything interesting happened in tech. It is time for a fresh breeze of change. Nothing’s mission is to remove barriers between people and technology to create a seamless digital future,” said Pei, the new brand’s CEO, in a press release. “We believe that the best technology is beautiful, yet natural and intuitive to use. When sufficiently advanced, it should fade into the background feel like nothing.”
“Right now… the team is being built, so we want to focus on simpler categories,” Pei says, “but as our team gains capabilities and skills we want to start moving up. The ultimate vision of having everything connected in a seamless way, that can only happen when you have multiple categories of products that are connected.”
Pei’s new company plans to differentiate itself by using “custom made” components in its products right from the start. Pei suggests this will stop Nothing’s products from looking too much like its competitors. “There’s a reason why a lot of products on the market look quite similar,” Pei observes. “It’s because they share a lot of the same components and the same building blocks.”
“[Nothing is] a completely independent company owned by our founding team and our investors,” says Pei, with its own R&D department. And despite using contract manufacturers to build its devices, Pei says Nothing won’t just “relabel somebody else’s products.”
In contrast, OnePlus’ phones have faced frequent criticism over the years for the similarities they’ve shared with Oppo’s phones. In a recent video, Marques Brownlee outlined a series of Oppo and OnePlus devices with strikingly similar hardware, like the OnePlus 5 and Oppo R11, the OnePlus 6T and Oppo R17, and the OnePlus Nord N100 and Oppo A53. The two brands even use similar fast-charging technologies. OnePlus has Dash Charge, and Oppo has VOOC.
Carl Pei might just be hyping the new brand after all
We all know that Pei is a master at building up hype. While he was with OnePlus, his pre-launch interviews and announcements always revealed just enough to get people salivating but not enough for them to have any real grip on the product. This was something he fully put into practice in the build-up to the OnePlus Nord — a project he spearheaded while at the company. The resulting PR campaign for the mid-ranger was as extensive as it was exhausting. Clearly, he’s ready to use those same skills with Nothing.
The trick he’ll need to play now is using his connection to OnePlus to hype Nothing, but not becoming reliant on that. Pei is smart enough to know that he can’t be “the guy who left OnePlus” forever. He needs to forge a new identity if he wants Nothing to stand on its own. After all, if my theories about his departure from OnePlus are correct, then the last thing he would want is to be beholden to another brand.