Tech

How Nothing Created the Ear 1 to Beat Apple AirPods

Thomas Howard: When we first started thinking about Nothing, we had the idea to “own” transparency. We are definitely not going to win the technology race. But if we want to have a chance, we need to be really good at technology. So let’s just do away with the facade, get rid of everything on the outside and turn to the inside, because that’s the main thing.

From a distance, you are intrigued, but everything seems pretty simple, and then slowly, when you start looking at the surface, that’s when the details of the product are revealed. But again, we really didn’t know what kind of problems transparency could cause.

Problems?

TH: The most important was the glue to connect the two sides of the transparent case. We went through many, many, many iterations – even until last week – to find the right balance. If you do it wrong, you will see glue all over the edge. Thus, it will no longer appear transparent. Instead, it will be distributed. This throws everything off balance.

We’ve tried alternatives to glue, different types of laser welding, ultrasonic welding – things that might be more yield-friendly, but of course this is a learning process for us. It just wasn’t in our heads [when we started]but right now this is the first thing we think about for future products.

Karl Pei: The rate of return for Ear 1s is only 50 percent. We want to bring it to the 90s. We are improving day by day.

Is that why you decided to make your headphones or case completely transparent? Is it too complicated and do you have such a high failure rate in production?

TH: We have set ourselves the task of revealing as many of the Ear 1 and case engineering solutions as possible. But you should strive to ensure that the products are as neutral as possible. They need to feel balanced and not yell “engineering” at you. Therefore, we decided to hide or pack some of the components so as not to distract or distract. That’s why we have this big white block inside the case. But we did our best to make it transparent.

CP: Many of us disliked consumer technology, which looked more and more the same. It was important to find a design language that we could stick to. Jasper [Kouthoofd, founder and CEO of Teenage Engineering] showed us a photo from the Sony Museum with a bunch of groceries hanging on the wall. You could see consistent vision. Companies today don’t really have a design vision, they just do what’s trendy every quarter.

The trick is to find something different, which is also desirable, but not just different for the sake of it. Clean transparent design where you see all on the headphones as well as on the case does not meet these criteria. We want our products to be available to more people. It would be very niche if it was completely transparent.

Ear 1s vs AirPods Pro

What are these points? Dot logo. Textured dots on the body. Red dot on the right earpiece.

TH: We tried to take away a job that we didn’t like. I had to design a logo. We wanted the look to be industrial. So … [Howard pulls out something that looks like a large gun.] This is amazing. This is what they use to mark pipes in industrial environments where they cannot be printed on. Ink splashes from it. But it’s basically a dot matrix. We thought, let the car create a logo for us. See where this route leads us. Then we started using this font for a lot of things.


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