To say that Nothing wants to change the status quo will be an understatement.
To say that Nothing wants to change the status quo will be an understatement. Carl Pei’s London-based consumer technology company which has just launched its first product, the Ear (1), wants to shake up the whole industry off the current norm through a large ecosystem of connected devices spanning multiple categories, all working in unison to achieve one goal — bring back human warmth. It wants technology to work for people but this technology — that it aspires to build now and going forward — would be so seamless, it would just fade into the background. It would not be so in your face that it limits human interactions. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why it calls itself, Nothing.
“What you see today is a sea of sameness in products where every brand is just chasing specifications,” Nothing India vice president and general manager Manu Sharma tells Financial Express Online, adding “we want to be a change agent and inspire passion back into technology, something which is missing at this point of time.”
Nothing plans to drive this change through a seemingly different approach on product development. Every product that it makes will be simple to use. It will have an “iconic” design, or at least, something that stands out from the crowd. Services will follow suit.
“We believe in something called transparent engineering. We want to ensure that everything we put on our devices, any other products or services, there’s a reason for it.”
The Ear (1) true wireless earbuds mark the start of this journey.
So, why Ear (1) of all things
Nothing believes that it can immediately make an impact on the TWS market. It’s a simpler category where the brand can scale up rapidly. It’s a category where the underlying experience is also perhaps the most broken right now, with more and more devices looking the same. But there’s a bigger agenda at play here.
“For us, it is really about building the blocks so that we can get into more categories as we move forward. It will allow us to set up our processes, systems, supply chain and all the various functions as we move to the other categories. That’s what we intend to do for now,” Sharma says.
Their biggest selling point will be their transparent design scheme. You’ve probably seen nothing like it before. The idea is to create windows, not walls, so you can clearly see both the earbuds (those are also as transparent as possible) right through. Not only does it look cool, it’s also a life saviour for all those instances where you’ve forgotten your earbuds, walked away, and then realised something’s missing.
“We worked as much as on the inside of the product (which no other brand does) as on the outside.”
It is very difficult to achieve (this level of) transparency, Sharma says. Just for some context, the transparent design means even the magnets (that are usually tucked inside free from prying eyes) need to be polished. And that’s just one piece of the puzzle. So much so that it was difficult to get suppliers on board too at one point. Many of them had raised their hands saying, they just couldn’t do it.
“We tried various things, various vendors before we finally got to the product, so we are super proud of what we’ve been able to achieve with the transparent design.”
It is not all form and no function, though, as Nothing has strived to offer a balance making every bite and gram of the Ear (1) serve a purpose. This starts with the build materials itself. Nothing claims, it is thirty times harder and more resistant to scratches versus competition, even the AirPods Pro. Special emphasis has been given to ensure these don’t get dirty easily or turn yellow. These are also IPX4-rated for splash resistance.
Comfort has been given due diligence. The earbuds are super light at 4.7 grams. The stem is flat so it’s easier for gesture control. You can pick them up easily without fumbling and dropping them. The tips have liquid silicone rubber so it’s soft on your ear and still blocks a fair bit of ambient noise.
Nothing is using an 11.6-millimeter driver in the Ear (1) with a big focus on offering balanced sound without compromising on ergonomics. The earbuds come with Bluetooth 5.2 and three high definition microphones (one dedicated for the voice to be picked up optimally), and active noise cancellation. These are tested with winds being blown at 40 kilometres an hour at different angles to get the algorithms right for voice clarity.
Fuelling the package is a 570mAh battery with fast (10 minutes charge gives you 1.2 hours of listening time) and Qi wireless charging support. Nothing is also launching a companion app for the Ear (1) earbuds on both Android and iOS. In addition to letting you customise gestures and control EQ levels and ANC, the app also supports Find my Earbud functionality. Even more importantly, it would allow Nothing to push out software updates to continuously improve upon the all-round experience.
The Ear (1) is the brainchild of Swedish electronics house Teenage Engineering. The head of Teenage Engineering, Jesper Kouthoofd is one of the co-founders of Nothing, also the brand’s creative lead. Tom Howard is the head of design. Everything was designed in Sweden. The product is assembled in China.
Nothing has something special for India
Nothing is targeting the tech enthusiast crowd as well as the “trendsetters” those who like to experience the latest and greatest in tech with that extra zing of “uniqueness” that would set them apart from others. It’s a unique proposition no doubt, but having said that, the Ear (1) isn’t a luxury product even though it might look like one. It is very, very aggressively priced. Especially in India. Priced at Rs 5,999, India will be one of the most affordable markets to get the Ear (1) earbuds.
“India is a super important market for us, and we are really excited that India can be an integral part of the growth strategy for Nothing globally. We see a huge opportunity to create a differentiation in the India market,” Sharma says. About the “strategic” pricing, he says, the Ear (1) earbuds cost lower in India “so that we can really address the needs of Indian consumers and increase our volumes as well.”
India is one of the first markets that Nothing is operating out of. It is based out of the National Capital Region (NCR) and is currently in the process of building and scaling its team. At this point in time, it has ten people on board. By the end of this year, this should be about fifteen and next year, it plans to scale up even further across sales, marketing and operations.
It is launching the Ear (1) in India at the same time as global markets reiterating its commitment to this market. The Ear (1) will also go on sale in India at the same time, likewise, which is to say you can buy them starting August 17. It plans to do this with all its future products.
Nothing has partnered with Walmart-owned Flipkart for distribution and after sales support. The partnership has also helped Nothing price the product the way it has been able to. Plus, it would allow it to leverage Flipkart’s wide customer base, technology and reach.
“We’ll have almost 205 service points across the country in almost 175 cities,” Sharma says, adding “we understand we’re right in the middle of COVID, so we will be providing a pickup and drop facility for consumers if there is a problem with the product. We are going to be replacing the product if by any chance the product is not working well.”
Nothing will provide a complete toll-free customer support in terms of FAQs and troubleshooting to consumers. At the same time, it will also provide support through email.
Everything else, including offline expansion, is on the table but for now, it wants to “focus on building the blocks in terms of making sure that we have the right infrastructure for Nothing in India.”
As for supplies, Nothing is confident it’s on the right track. “We are very well connected with the whole ecosystem across the world with the top-notch component suppliers. We are very agile. We track each and everything, so as far as supplies are concerned, absolutely no issues there,” he says.
Now, we did ask about the kind of categories that Nothing’s looking to get into, including the most obvious question, “will there be a Nothing smartphone?” Sharma did not confirm nor deny this. But with the Essential IP at its disposal, and both Carl and his experience with smartphones, you may never know, something might just be around the corner.