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[Herald Interview] UK firm lures Korean trendsetters with 'transparent phones'

Amid Samsung-Apple dominance, Nothing Technology eyes No. 3 spot in Korean smartphone market

July 16, 2023 - 14:50 By Jie Ye-eun
Nothing's co-founder Akis Evangelidis poses with the company's latest transparent smartphone, Phone 2, in Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap)

UK smartphone maker Nothing Technology Limited made its Korean debut last week with its second-generation flagship device, Phone 2.

In a market dominated by two big names -- Samsung and Apple, the three-year-old company says it is targeting a niche but lively audience here.

“We wanted to have a design identity that’s really strong and authentic to Nothing and something that could be recognized two meters away without looking at the (brand) logo because all smartphones look more the same (nowadays),” Nothing’s co-founder Akis Evangelidis who doubles as marketing chief told The Korea Herald in a recent interview in Seoul.

London-based Nothing was set up by Evangelidis and co-founder Carl Pei, who also co-founded the Chinese smartphone brand OnePlus, in October 2020.

Its first product was a set of wireless transparent earbuds, Ear 1, August 2021. Then, the company debuted the second-generation earbuds, Ear 2, in March last year and its first transparent smartphone, Phone 1, in July in the same year..

The Nothing co-founder was visiting Seoul for the local launch of the Phone 2.

The most challenging part of the transparent design is controlling dust particles, he said. The company has set up special assembly lines with water grids and humidifiers to remove as many dust particles as possible.

It also required a lot of investing in research and development, since it used a technique not used before in the industry. Evangelidis declined to disclose the investment amount, but he stressed that some 300 out of the total 450 employees are R&D workers as of the first half of this year.

About the tough competition with Samsung and Apple, Evangelidis said “We have more freedom to develop ourselves in a very differentiated way. We have a very focused approach, like young and creative customers, whereas (Apple and Samsung) are a much broader audience for instance.”

An image of Nothing's second-generation flagship device, Phone 2. (Nothing)

Nothing’s key customers are in Gen Z and those in creative industries such as design, music and social media. They include American artist Daniel Arsham, American designer Sean Wotherspoon and Swedish supergroup Swedish House Mafia. Yet he was not sure whether transparent smartphones will be the norm in the mass market.

The Phone 2 runs Nothing OS 2.0 over Android 13, with a monochrome layout and the possibility to remove app labels to minimize unnecessities. It also features a 32-megapixel front camera and a 50-megapixel dual rear camera system, as well as a 6.7-inch OLED display. The phone will be available in Korea on Friday, with the price ranging between 899,000 won and 1.09 million won ($708-$866) depending on the size of the storage.

A unique feature is the Glyph interface at the back, an irregular combination of LED strips in loops and lines designed to provide essential information for users without looking at the screen. Users can tailorlight patterns and sound sequences to contacts and applications, even serving as a visual countdown and progress tracker for ride or delivery services.

“We're not trying to compete with (Samsung and Apple). … Looking at data, other brands have been fighting for the 3 percent market share but there has not been a third smartphone brand that really stood out in recent years. We have the ability to become that sort of third player in this market with at least a 1 percent market share within this year or next year,” Evangelidis said.

“I think Korea is a market that is on top of technology, trends and culture. Users are also very familiar with the Android system because of Samsung smartphones,” he said. “It looks like a perfect market fit for our products and brand. So I’m quite excited to see how the next few months will go.”