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This iPhone Challenger Could Transform Smartphones by Trading Apps for AI

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London-based electronics maker Nothing wants to revolutionize smartphones, ditching conventional apps in favor of a fully AI-managed interface.

«The way we use our smartphones needs to be redefined,” Nothing CEO Carl Pei declared on Twitter. “The current user experience hasn’t evolved for more than a decade… the next era needs a highly personalized, dynamic, and cross-device interface.”

There’s been a lot of hype around AI. Some great, some confusing. It’s great to see new companies rethinking the user experience and form factors. However, there is no doubt that smartphones will remain the main consumer AI form factor for the foreseeable future. With over 4… pic.twitter.com/ERJc7xhwBa

— Carl Pei (@getpeid) June 5, 2024

Pei is betting on AI as the best way to get there, which he said will bring smartphone user interfaces that are completely different from the ones we know today. He shared a preview of what the next Nothing smartphone might look like, straying far from the typical grid of apps and widgets.

“We have been exploring ways of deeply integrating AI into the operative system,” said Walid, a designer at Nothing featured in a video shared by Pei. “We tried to reimagine the home screen—we wanted to move away from it just being a launcher into becoming more of a hub of contextual, relevant information.”

In “tomorrow’s post-app world,” Nothing proposes that users will simply interact with AI, asking it to do everything. The AI assistant would then coordinate any required applications in the background to complete requests without requiring any further interaction from the user.

Nothing’s idea, he said, is to provide every user with a “highly personalized companion that feels almost like a best friend.”

Walid demonstrated the AI assistant setup, where the system asked for personality traits he valued in a companion. After saying he liked people who are fun, thoughtful, and have a good sense of humor, the assistant introduced itself as Oliver.

“We’ve all been playing internally with this prototype for the past week or so,” he reported. “We all managed to get different companions that seem uniquely tailored to each one of us.”

Pei asserted that his company is ready to compete in the red-hot AI space.

«Over the last 3.5 years, we’ve been busy establishing our end to end capabilities… and as we reach stability and with solid growth plans, we’re ready to shift gears,“ he said. “See this as us throwing our hat into the consumer AI race.»

Nothing’s companion seemed quite similar to ChatGPT’s voice chatbot —at least per the preview: A flat circle in a black background with a pleasant, human-like voice. However, Nothing didn’t reveal whether this assistant will run locally or in the cloud. Given the computing power required to run similar AI tools, however, it is likely to be a cloud-dependent feature.

Image: Carl Pei/Twitter

Pei started Nothing in 2021 after leaving Chinese electronics manufacturer OnePlus, which had entered the smartphone market in 2014 with the $300 OnePlus One. The first phone from Nothing was released in 2022, priced under $500 and running a customized version of Google’s Android operating system.

The Nothing Phone (2) moved solidly toward the high-end of the smartphone market, gunning for Apple, Google and Samsung with a $600 flagship device that earned rave reviews. Last month, a more modestly configured Nothing Phone (2a) went on sale for $350.

It’s unclear whether the re-imagined interface Pei shared today will be part of the yet unannounced Nothing Phone (3), but he did say it would be released in 2025.

Image: Carl Pei/Twitter

Pei didn’t share any additional details about the upcoming device, so its design, specs, and features remain unknown. Hardware enthusiast sites and forums predict that it may adopt an upgraded Snapdragon 8 processor, along with upgrades to its camera module and a bigger battery. But the key to Pei’s pitch is the overhauled user interface.

Sharing some Quick Settings redesign WIP, any feedback? 😁 pic.twitter.com/kZP1LRAwdB

— Carl Pei (@getpeid) May 21, 2024

«We’ve come a long way, being the only company that built a smartphone business in the last 10 years,” he said. “We’ve also developed a creative culture in the company that emphasizes great UX and thoughtful integration between software and hardware.»

Meanwhile, other smartphone companies are already incorporating AI features into their devices. The Google Pixel lineup—with new Google Tensor chips—is incorporating on-device Large Language Models (LLM), while the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, with its Galaxy AI, is offering features like Live Translate and Circle to Search.

Smartphones featuring the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 processor, like the Xiaomi 14 and new Motorola models, also offer AI-powered features.

Ultimately, the best way to carry AI with you might very well be the ubiquitous smartphone rather than a specialized device. The Humane AI pin was criticized for its lack of practicality, huge latency, and low accuracy. The better-received Rabbit R1 has turned out to be mostly powered by an app that runs scripts in the cloud. And the promised Limitless AI pendant has yet to prove its value.

Edited by Ryan Ozawa.

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