A $600 Device Rethinks How the Back of Your Smartphone Can Look

The Nothing Phone (2) entered the US market for the first time with a pop-up in New York City.

(Bloomberg) — Tino Hernandez, a recently graduated mathematics major, got in line for the Nothing Phone’s first pop-up in the US at 9 a.m., 10 hours before it opened.

The current OnePlus 8T user wasn’t here for the company’s new release, dubbed Phone (2). He was just here to show his support. 

“It’s the first launch in the US for Nothing. I wanted to see the product for myself,” Hernandez says. “Seeing a new design, new everything, new language, new community, new support and everything just feels fresh. It feels like the excitement of new technology in the world.”

Nothing was founded by Carl Pei, who co-founded OnePlus, which makes quality phones with top specs at affordable prices. Pei started Nothing in 2020 in London with big ambitions about the future of technology and design, and in 2022, he released the Nothing Phone (1) in Europe and Asia.

On July 13, for the US debut of the Phone (2), Pei was inside a red bubble-shaped pop-up kiosk in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, where he greeted customers, checked receipts and bagged orders. He talked with several of them in English and Mandarin, shaking hands, taking selfies and autographing their packages on request. 

By introducing the Phone (2) with a new “glyph interface” at the back, Nothing aims to help users minimize screen interactions by accessing key information at a glance. For example, if you order an Uber, you can set up the interface to act as a progress tracker, which allows you to watch the lights on the back of the phone count down to keep an eye on the arrival of the driver without having to look at the screen in the front. 

“Sometimes when I unlock my phone, I just fall into the social media apps,” Pei says while at at the pop-up event. “So I think there’s a lot of people like me. How can we empower them to open the screen a little bit less?”

The glyph lights were embraced by the on-site customers. “Innovations can look like gimmicks when something innovative is starting out,” says Rushna Quddus, a Ph.D. student in chemistry at New York University. “The reason why that doesn’t look like a gimmick to me is because someone bothered to ask the question of ‘What about behind the phone? Why are we leaving that useless?’”

The phone, which runs on Android, has a 6.7-inch screen—roughly similar to the iPhone 14 Pro Max—and up to 512 gigabytes of storage. Other than the lights on the back, the biggest difference between a Nothing Phone(2) and other Android models is the Nothing OS 2.0, the software based on Android 13, which allows users to tailor everything from app labels and grid design to widget size and color themes. 

Henry Tom, a user-experience designer working at a Wall Street bank, decided to sell his iPhone 14 Pro Max after buying a white Phone (2) at the pop-up. “A lot of people don’t talk about the vision, but I believe in their vision of making phones exciting,” he says. “That’s something really missing in this industry right now.”

Pei says that’s exactly the point. “We’re targeting young and creative people. If you look at our users, they’re very interested in new technology and also interested in design,” he says. For its worldwide premiere on July 11 he showed up in a vlog-style debut video with YouTuber Casey Neistat. 

“If you look at Apple and Samsung, they have a very good business model already,” Pei says. “They’re making a lot of money. They know who their customers are. So why take a big risk on the product side? I think this is the first time in a lot of years that a small team with big ambitions is able to chart a slightly different course to where the smartphone industry and consumer tech as a whole can go.”

The Phone (2) starts at $599 and has full band support for AT&T and T-Mobile and what Nothing is calling “limited support” for Verizon. In the US, the phones are available for purchase only on the Nothing site.

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