OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, who left the fan-favorite smartphone maker to start his own “Nothing” company, is working on wireless headphones and more with Alphabet’s backing, he’s confirmed. Pei left OnePlus in late in 2020, having helped drive it from a budget Android smartphone with limited availability, to a relatively well known brand with several ranges and space on US carrier store shelves.
When Pei announced that he was leaving, and subsequently revealed his new startup was to be called Nothing, speculation unsurprisingly ran high. Teasers indicated it would be more consumer electronics, but the exact nature of the project was uncertain.
Today, though, Pei has revealed more details – including where he’s getting his financing from. Previously known as Google Ventures, Alphabet’s venture capital division GV put $15 million into Nothing, he told Bloomberg. Pei declined to detail the deal, or the valuation of the startup, which is based in London.
As for the products, the first on the roadmap is a set of wireless headphones. They’re expected to be released this summer, though not be Nothing’s only launch of 2021. Nor, indeed, will Nothing be solely an audio company, despite its initial offering.
“We’re building an ecosystem of smart devices,” Pei confirmed. “We’ll start with simpler products, wireless earbuds. We’re going to have multiple products throughout the year, not just audio products, and eventually we want to build it so these devices talk to each other.”
Alphabet’s Google, of course, has a foot in the smart audio space already. Its Pixel Buds wireless headphones can summon the Google Assistant via a hands-free wake word trigger, for controlling smart home devices, answering questions, handling music playback, and getting navigation instructions. Apple does the same with Siri and its AirPods range, while Amazon has Alexa that features in both earbuds and its Echo Frames, audio-focused eyewear that allows the virtual assistant to whisper to the wearer more discreetly.
Still, it’s not like other startups haven’t tried – and struggled – to do similar. Essential, a similarly high-profile company launched by former Android chief Andy Rubin, had bold ambitions not just for a smartphone but smart home devices and more. Challenges breaking into the fiercely competitive phone market, however, along with controversies about Rubin himself effectively scuppered the company, and Essential shut down in early 2020.