The Nothing Phone (1) Doesn’t Stand a Chance Against the iPhone

But it’s a pretty great Android phone

  • Nothing’s phone (1) launches in Europe on 12th July.
  • Nothing founder Carl Pei wants to take on the iPhone.
  • Lock-in makes it almost impossible to start a new phone platform.

The back side of the Nothing phone (1).


Nothing's phone (1) looks incredible and seems to be going up against the iPhone. But in the end, is it anything more than just another Android phone?

The phone (1), launching this month in Europe, is a much-hyped and quite amazing-looking phone, with some genuinely neat features—like that crazy lighting rig around back. But there's a problem. The phone (1) seems to be aimed at Apple users, which, as we shall see, is an almost impossible task.

"It is increasingly hard for new vendors to enter the Smartphone market for the simple reason that Apple, and Google to an extent, have gone to great lengths to ensure that the iPhone is an integral part of your wider ecosystem of tech," Lee Essex, of U.K.-based phone vendor The SIM Works told Lifewire via email. "Why would I want to move to a smartphone that is not synced with my MacBook and my iPad?"

Apple, and Android, and... Yeah, No

There are two smartphone platforms. iPhone, and Android. And for most readers of this article, Android means Samsung. We used to have alternatives, like Windows Phone, and before that, Palm’s Pre, but they failed, and the situation is unlikely to change any time soon. That’s because, in order to create a new phone operating system, you also need to create an entire platform. It has to sync with your computer. It needs to have the basic apps that people expect, like Spotify, or your favorite to-do list, and so on.

I think it'll probably end up being a sought-after phone in the Android market, rather than a competitor to the iPhone.

That’s why pretty much all non-Apple phones are based on Android. Not only do you get a modern operating system, but your users can install all their existing apps. All you have to do is come up with a good handset design, a nice skin for the OS to make it look different, and maybe some proprietary apps. Any existing Android user who likes the look of your phone can switch with minimal effort.

If you want to attract iPhone users, though, you have a much harder task. None of their already-purchased apps will work. If they use Apple Music you they have to switch to an alternative. Their mail, photos, address book, and all that might exist only in iCloud. You can begin to see the problem.

Locking You Into the Ecosystem

Apple is only piling on more of this lock-in. Its focus on services—TV, Music, Fitness+, iCloud+, and so on—is partly about the easy money it can make from existing users. But it's also an extra chain for its lock-in. At some point, it's just too much hassle and too expensive to move all that data, no matter how amazing an alternate phone might be.

"I've always preferred Android, and so the Nothing phone (1) could appeal to me when I'm in the market for a new phone," Android fan and founder of Rockstar Marketing Ravi Davda told Lifewire via email. "I think it definitely stands a chance, albeit niche. But yes, I think it'll probably end up being a sought-after phone in the Android market, rather than a competitor to the iPhone."

And yet, despite this, Nothing's founder Carl Pei wants to compete with Apple on the kinds of features Apple users can only enjoy because of this lock-in. Speaking to The Verge, Pei said that he wants to offer things like Apple's Universal Control, which lets you run the mouse pointer off the side of your Mac's screen and directly onto your iPad's screen, seamlessly and wirelessly. This points to an ambition far beyond most Android makers.

A view of the rear of the Nothing phone (1), with a parakeet hanging from the top of the phone.


It's possible that Nothing could become a high-end Android maker with a range of hardware. For example, right now, there are no good Android tablets. Nothing could use its design skills to integrate a system like Apple, only built on the existing Android OS. It already has the Ear earbuds, a credible AirPods competitor.

Once you get past the Android part, it's possible to use that operating system as the basis for a new experience. Nothing could try to match Apple's excellent privacy features, for example, which would be quite a differentiator in the Android market.

It would be fantastic to have another phone OS provider in the world, but as these platforms grow, that's ever more unlikely. But that doesn't mean good design and hardware integration can't be important, even on Android.

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