Ever since Carl Pei left OnePlus to form Nothing, his new company has been promising a radical new approach to modern tech design and based on some new tidbits, it appears Nothing is going to lean heavily on a tech trend from the 90s: see-through gadgets.
In what Nothing claims is the “first-ever close-up picture” of its upcoming ear (1) wireless earbuds, it posted a rather enigmatic image on Instagram featuring a transparent item surrounded by even more transparent swirls, which may or may not be part of the gadget’s design.
While Nothing has yet to confirm what part of its upcoming earbuds is pictured in the images above, after a little digging and checking out Nothing’s teaser doc, I suspect that the large rectangular shape is a transparent case for Nothing’s earbuds, while the earbuds themselves can be seen (even if they are highly distorted) in the bottom left. There are even some discernable components like the small whitish protrusions on the earbuds, which appear to be translucent ear tips of some sort.
The idea of transparency is something Nothing and Pei have been pushing quite hard, with Pei saying today that “Transparent design is one of the hardest things to accomplish for the engineering team,” and that the danger of going this route is that “It’s very easy to create something that looks cheap when it’s transparent.”
Previously, Pei has even said that Nothing’s goal is to completely eliminate things like logos and branding from its devices so that the only thing that’s left is “raw tech.” That said, trying to make a transparent gadget and actually doing so are two very different things, as a lot of components in gadgets like screws, glue, and batteries aren’t really conducive to being transparent or translucent, which is a challenge Nothing’s design team mentions in the company’s mini-doc.
Regardless, if we look past Nothing’s teaser to consumer electronics as a whole, it really feels like Nothing may be on to something with its quest for transparent tech, or at the very least coming full circle on a trend we last saw in the 90s and early 2000s.
Back when Macaulay Culkin was still a cute kid fending off incompetent robbers, toys and game consoles made out of translucent plastic were everywhere. We had see-through neon green N64s, iMacs with bright candy-colored shells, and all sorts of knick-knacks and gadgets constructed out of translucent plastic, and it was kind of awesome.
Now in recent years, a number of companies have danced around the idea of transparent gadgets with things like Xiaomi’s transparent TV or its special edition Mi 9. But for the most part, transparent or translucent tech has largely been confined to more niche segments like retro gaming, where there’s already a built-in fanbase for see-through gadgets.
But in a way, that’s what makes Nothing push for transparent tech such a tantalizing proposition. Not only is Nothing poised to tap into the nostalgia of millennials who are now grown up but still have fond memories of their translucent 90s tech, by aiming for transparency, Nothing should have a much easier time standing out from other big tech brands like Apple, Samsung, and others.
Unfortunately, with so little concrete info to go on right now, we’re mostly just speculating. But with Nothing set to officially debut its ear (1) earbuds on July 27, we should have a much clearer idea of what Nothing is really up to before long.
[Update: 7/6/21] Today, Nothing announced that its upcoming ear (1) wireless earbuds will start at $99 and feature active noise cancellation of some sort, with initial sales available in the U.S., U.K., India, and other parts of Europe and North America.