Carl Pei's independent venture Nothing Technologies LTD is supposedly a company that wants to shake up the consumer tech market in a big way. Andy Rubin may have left a terrible legacy, but his Essential brand created a few interesting products and had big plans. Now the two are one and I'm pretty curious about what we can expect — or if we can expect anything at all — from Nothing.
We don't really know a lot about Nothing's plans. Various interviews with Carl Pei have been full of big ideas and little details, but we know one or two important things — Nothing plans to make its money from hardware, not software, and Nothing probably isn't going to be a smartphone maker. At least not right now. Here's what I want to see from Nothing.
One of the strangest (or best, depending on your point of view) things about the Essential phone was its magnetic accessory adapter. The company released two accessories that used the feature — a 360-degree camera and an HD audio adapter. Neither were very popular with users because they were priced a bit high, but the ideas were pretty neat.
I don't want parts attached to my phone. Put them inside my headphones instead.
I don't want to see any sort of USB HD audio adapter that attaches to my phone. Sales of Essentials product, as well as things like LG mods for the G4 and Moto Mods, tell me that nobody else does, either. These are things best built into a phone, not attached to it.
But now that Nothing has all the patents and engineering that went into the development, it could build something like a smart audio adapter akin to the Chromecast Audio. Wireless audio input and high-fidelity audio output work really well for things like home stereo systems, and if a "smart" component — like Google Assistant built-in, for example, would make for a compelling product.
The same technology could be applied to Bluetooth headphones. Every pair of wireless headphones, from big over-ear models to tiny earbuds, has its own set of audio hardware built-in. Sometimes it's great, often it's mediocre, and some ultra-cheap models are bad. Nothing-branded headphones using Essential's already engineered HD audio circuitry could sound amazing.
A smart remote
Nobody wants a smartphone that's just two-inches wide, and thankfully, Essential never tried to convince us otherwise and release what it called "the Gem" — the long, skinny piece of gear pictured above.
Nothing could build a Harmony remote on steroids and I'd buy one.
But I can see how a product like this could fit into any smartphone ecosystem. Imagine Android without all the apps and services that make the best Android phones worth buying. It would be like Android inside a toaster or microwave and only designed to do a few things, like connect to your smart devices.
A small "remote control" that can turn your lights on and off or dim them, check who is at the door through your smart doorbell, or even connect to a Nest Hub in some way so it could act as an intercom system is a pretty cool idea. I know using my Harmony remote to control everything in my entertainment stand as well as my Philips Hue lights is really handy. If it could be extended to control devices through a connection to Google Home or something like Samsung's Smart Things, it would be even cooler.
Build the Essential Home
I think Carl Pei could build what Andy Rubin couldn't.
We never got all the details of the never-released product, but what we did learn was that it was a smart assistant that could do what our Nest Hub or Echo could do, but it also pushed information to you instead of waiting for you to tell it to give you information. A great example would be telling you to leave 30 minutes early for work and then changing your alarm because a subway line was down. Or using long-range sensing tech to turn on a light when you enter a room.
We don't know how far along the Essential Home was before it was canceled and it might not ever be possible to build a device like this. But we know what Carl Pei wants to accomplish with Nothing:
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. We believe that the best technology is beautiful, yet natural and intuitive to use. When sufficiently advanced, it should fade into the background and feel like nothing.
A dream product like the Essential Home fits right in with the company's strategy and somehow, I think Carl Pei could pull it off.