If you’re looking for a new smartphone and you live in the U.S., you probably know the drill. That’s why most U.S.-based customers shop for smartphones at a carrier-branded store, and that presents a huge problem for companies like Nothing, which is on the brink of releasing its first major phone.
I’m talking, of course, about the Nothing phone (1)(opens in new tab), the first phone to release from UK-based Nothing, and the second company co-founded by Carl Pei (formerly of OnePlus, if you’ve been living under a rock).
OnePlus is one of the few smaller companies that has made a name for itself here, and can be found on our list of best Android phones(opens in new tab), but that company’s success is the anomaly, not the norm. Even large companies like Sony haven’t made a dent in the market, and it’s entirely the fault of the way telecommunications companies operate here.
As Nothing gears up for its first phone launch, the hype that it’s worked so hard to create was quickly deflated — at least, in part — by the knowledge that it’s not officially coming(opens in new tab) to the U.S. Given the stakes, does it really make sense to go this route? The answer is a surprisingly clear “yes,” but that doesn’t come without caveats. Let’s explore.
Telcos (Telecommunications companies) in the U.S. have been vilified for many reasons over the years; plenty of these reasons are likely true and haven’t changed in a long time. While they often tell customers of the hard work it takes to build a network in such a geographically diverse (and large) country, the fact of the matter is that they could do a whole lot better with the smartphones themselves. As Carl Pei told me in an interview earlier this week, the carriers “hold the keys to the kingdom” and don’t often give them away to usurpers attempting to overthrow the status quo.
The only company carriers bend over backward for is Apple, but that’s another story for another article.
Given that the phone (1) is Nothing’s first smartphone, attempting to vie for these spots isn’t financially feasible, according to Pei. Based on the information we know about his years at OnePlus and the difficulties that OnePlus faced trying to enter the market as an unlocked vendor, it’s clear that the only financially viable option would be to go the carrier route once enough resources were available to make it possible.
If you’ve been keeping up with the smartphone game for any number of years, this is a story you’ve heard a thousand times.
Selling on Amazon as your own brand is always an option — and can be quite lucrative in many product categories — but U.S. customers have gotten so used to hearing “this phone isn’t compatible with your carrier of choice” that most of them just buy what’s at the Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile store and move on to the next thing in life.
Sure doesn’t leave Nothing much room for… anything, really.
Given that Pei has direct experience with this exact process, though, there’s little doubt that Nothing will attempt this move as soon as is feasible.
Nothing’s statement to PCMag echoes these sentiments, as well.
The recent exclusive MKBHD hands-on(opens in new tab) proves that Pei and company have what it takes to build hype — even in a market where its products won’t be readily available — but will hype from an American-based tech YouTuber really make a splash in international markets? Wouldn’t it make more sense to put the phone in the hands of someone like Geekyranjit(opens in new tab), who operates a 3+ million subscriber channel in India, one of the key markets Nothing will be launching in?
Or how about Mrwhosetheboss(opens in new tab) (Arun Maini), who is arguably the biggest tech YouTuber in Nothing’s home country of the United Kingdom?
But it probably doesn’t matter anyway, and here’s why.
After all, there’s a reason we’ve only seen bits and pieces of the phone up until now. We first got a glimpse of the unique lights on the back of the phone earlier this year(opens in new tab) — although, at the time, we had no idea what the strange-looking pattern even meant — followed a few months later by an interview(opens in new tab) on the phone’s design.
More recently, we saw a brief tease of the phone’s corners(opens in new tab) followed by a full reveal of the phone’s back the next day(opens in new tab) and, of course, the back of the phone in action from Marques himself.
As we’ve seen from brands like Xiaomi(opens in new tab), a presence in the U.S. is irrelevant if you can attract other key markets.