Thomas Howard: When we first started thinking about Nothing, there was the idea of ‘own’ transparency. We’re not going to win the tech race, that’s for sure. But if we want to have a chance at all, we have to be very good at engineering. So, let’s just remove the facade, get rid of everything on the exterior and turn to the interior, because that’s the most important thing.
You get intrigued from a distance, but things look quite simple, and then slowly when you start looking at the surface, then the details of the product are revealed. But again, we didn’t really know what problems transparency would cause.
TH: The biggest thing was the glue that joined the two sides of the transparent case. We went through many, many, many repetitions – even until last week – to find the right balance. If you do it wrong, you will see the glue all the way along the edge. So it will no longer look transparent. It will be dispersed instead. That throws the whole thing off balance.
We have tried alternatives to glue, various types of laser welding, ultrasonic welding – things that might be more suitable for yield, but, of course, it is a learning process for us. It just didn’t cross our minds [when we started], but for future products this is now the first thing we think about.
Carl Pei: The yield rate for spikes 1s is only 50 percent. We want to get to the 90s. We are improving day by day.
Is that why you didn’t opt for a completely clear headset or holster? It’s just too hard and you have such a high production failure rate?
TH: We set ourselves the challenge of discovering as much engineering as possible on Ear 1 and the case. But you must try to make the products as neutral as possible. They need to feel balanced and not scream “engineering” at you. So we decide to shield or pack some components so as not to disturb or disturb them. That’s why we have this big white block inside the case. But we did as much as we could to make it transparent.
CP: Many of us have not been inspired by consumer technology that looks more and more. It was important to find a design language that we could adhere to. Jesper [Kouthoofd, founder and CEO of Teenage Engineering] he showed us a picture from the Sony Museum where there was a pile of products on the wall. You could see a consistent vision. Today’s companies don’t really have a design vision, but do everything in fashion every quarter.
The trick is in finding something different that is also desirable, but not just different because of it. Clean transparent design, where you see everything on the headphones, and also the case, does not meet these criteria. We want to make the products available to more people. It would have been very niche if it had been completely transparent.
Ear 1s vs. AirPods Pro
What is it with all the points? Dot logo. Housing texture. Red dot on the right earpiece.
TH: We tried to remove jobs that we didn’t like. We had to design a logo. We wanted the look to be industrial. Pa… [Howard pulls out something that looks like a large gun.] This is amazing. This is what they use to mark tubes in industrial environments where you can’t print on them. It injects some kind of ink. But it’s basically a point matrix. We thought, let the machine design the logo for us. See where that route takes us. Then we started using that letter for many things.