There is no such thing as bad publicity” is an oft-repeated mantra that many marketeers swear and live by. As per this line of thought, what matters is getting media coverage. Even if it is unflattering, it only aids one’s cause by bringing one attention. This may be true in some instances, but in the fast-paced world of tech, negative attention can take you from riches to rags in no time.

Nothing Phone (1) Opinion

Handing out a masterclass in hype

Most brands build hype around their smartphones to get them as much attention as possible. Still, this year, a new entrant in the smartphone league almost weaponized this aspect, generating the sort of hype around its first phone that established brands struggle to get. We are talking about Nothing and its recently launched smartphone Phone (1).

While most phones manage to make the headlines in the days leading up to their launch, the Phone (1) was making headlines months before it was launched. From the design blueprint to the prototype to leaks and rumors, the Nothing Phone (1) stayed firmly in the headline zone for the longest time. And this attention continued even after the phone was launched.

While launching the Phone (1), Carl Pei, the co-founder of OnePlus and Nothing, stressed how the device was more about the experience than specs and numbers. This is why it was no surprise that the phone specs were nothing particularly jaw-dropping. The phone’s semi-transparent back laden with 900 tiny LEDs made heads turn and make people stand and stare. Pei claimed he wanted to make smartphones exciting again, and to be honest, the Nothing Phone (1) did manage to get a lot of excitement going there for a while. In a world dominated by the likes of Samsung and Apple, Nothing had managed to grab headlines over a long period of time with a phone that played purely on experience and cost a fraction of most flagships. This was a masterclass in the hype.

The hype wave turns into a riptide

While the attention around the Nothing Phone (1) is still refusing to die, the excitement certainly seems to have petered out, and indeed, some of the attention has now turned negative.

Before and during the Phone(1) launch, Pei repeatedly insisted that he wanted to focus on delivering a great smartphone experience and did not want to participate in the spec and numbers rat race. He talked about the flexible display Nothing used to make the Phone (1)’s front more symmetrical, the stock Android UI to deliver a clean, clutter-free UI, and how the brand used environmentally friendly materials to build the device. All of this created an idea of a device that was somehow a step above regular smartphones. And the LED lights on the back only helped its cause. There seemed to be some substance behind the hype.

But since its release, the Phone (1) has been actually facing a number of issues that would have embarrassed most entry-level devices, let alone a mid-segment smartphone that came in the market, promising to be different and with an almost “holier than thou” attitude. Even though Nothing kept stressing the fact that they are more focused on the quality of the phone than the numbers that it brings along, many users have found cracks in that very claim.

Specks of dust, dead pixels…and more

Ironically, the biggest USP of the Phone (1), that semi-transparent back with LED lights, has been in the eye of a quality storm, raising questions about the quality standards that the phone comes with. Users have shared pictures of the phone where the dust particles have entered inside the glass back of the phone – an issue that has been seen particularly with the black variants sold in the Indian market. This has raised concerns about how sturdy the phone actually is. If dust can get into the back panel, would it be able to hold off the water? With all those LEDs inside, this sort of ingress seems like a recipe for disaster and also has raised issues about the IP53 rating of the phone.

That was not all. Just after the first sale of Phone (1) went live, some users started facing the dead pixel issue, wherein the display of Phone (1) contains dead pixels which do not respond to the content on display. These dead pixels appeared mostly near the front camera on display, indicating that it is more likely to be a hardware issue than caused by physical damage. Another problem that some customers are facing is that the display gets a green tint when placed in a dark environment with low brightness. Nothing has also acknowledged this issue and, in a statement, mentioned that it will be resolved with a software update.

Then there are complaints about the software being buggy, and some consumers even having difficulty pairing devices to the phone via Bluetooth. The biggest problem is that these are not isolated cases limited to a device or two but seem actually to be issues that a number of users are facing.

Absent phones, present updates (too many updates?)

To top this, Nothing is also struggling with delivering promised units. Many have purchased the device online and have even paid advances, but unfortunately, Nothing has not been able to deliver units to its customers. While there have been the usual noises about “overwhelming response” leading to supply issues, it does seem to be a little odd that a band led by someone who co-founded OnePlus did not have supply lines in place. Complaints about the absence of reliable service centers are also coming in, although that is a problem faced by many brands in India.

What it does seem to have in place is an extremely quick software update system. But even this is turning out to be a bit of a mixed blessing. Since the Phone (1) launch, Nothing has delivered three major OS updates. Many might see this as the brand’s continuous effort to improve the device, but the fact that these updates fixed software bugs and added features has made some wonder if Nothing had actually rushed the product to the market without adequate testing. And that once again raises issues about quality control.

And even as all this is happening, Nothing has actually increased the price of the Phone (1) as well, citing “economic factors such as fluctuating currency exchange rates and rising component costs.

There IS something known as bad publicity (and Nothing needs to deal with it)

While Nothing has been credited by many for doing its best to address the issues that have been coming up, what has been striking is the fact that the brand has been relatively silent in this regard. Its relatively low-key responses have starkly contrasted to the adjective-laden statements it made while promoting its device.

Nothing promised us a revolutionary phone which would bring back the excitement in this ‘boring’ smartphone climate. And while the Nothing Phone (1) is indeed very unlike anything out there, the issues surrounding it and the brand’s lukewarm response to them might tempt many to stick to their boring and old but reliably working smartphones.

Nothing managed to build great hype around the Phone (1), but the hype is a double-edged sword and can do just as much damage as it can do good, especially when not backed up by actions. The brand has proved that it can deliver a marketing marvel in the smartphone world. Perhaps it is time for it to focus as much on the user experience as much as it talks about it. Nothing has talked the talk. It needs to start walking the walk too.

Because no matter what the marketing wizards might say, there is something known as bad publicity. Something that Nothing needs to pay attention to.

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