It’s like something out of a William Gibson plotline. Nothing is headquartered in London and will make … something. And apart from tapping alumni of Apple, Twitch, Reddit, YouTube, and a CEO from OnePlus – they’re also bringing in Swedish designers Teenage Engineering.
It seems our previously quiet world of synthesizers is suddenly the object of investor interest and the larger tech world – and that some of that interest is being actively courted. Far from synths as a sideline to piano and effect pedal manufacturers, we’re seeing big money going into firms like ROLI, Native Instruments, and Output. And whereas the first generation of synth inventors tended to keep their design aspirations focused on instruments, new creators have other horizons in mind, too. (That’s not to privilege one approach or the other – just to note a shift. Hey, Lev Termen did some serious moonlighting design-wise for the KGB, so it’s tough to top that.)
For their part, the team at Teenage Engineering have long seemed to view synths as being just one calling card for a larger design business.
Nothing is the buzzed-about startup with a self-consciously snarky name. (See also: The Boring Company.) For now, that name – laid out in faux dot-matrix type – might be a bit on the nose, as no one knows what they’ll make. They’ve got the co-founder of phone maker OnePlus as the new founder and CEO. And they’ll make smart devices, which “should fade into the background and feel like nothing.” And um… earbuds? But also “so much more than that.” An ecosystem of things? Anyway, they have some money already. (See the most recent Verge update. There’s also an extensive profile in Wired.)
Maybe the most telling addition is that Tony Fadell, who famously led the iPod effort at Apple before starting Nest, is one of the main investors. (Fadell likes to be called its “inventor,” though I think that depends on who writes the history. He certainly did contribute the initial concepts and ran the team, and had a heavy hand in the original iPhone, as well.)
The surprise twist is, Teenage Engineering are onboard as co-founders and leadership. The Teenagers made that announcement in a letter today from CEO Jesper Kouthoofd, with a cheeky photo of Tom going cross-eyed and the idea of “split vision.” [This is a somewhat unfortunate choice, as I know people working in the industry with strabismus.]
Basically, Teenage Engineering seems to remain what it is as far as the synth products, and they take on design and aesthetics for whatever it is Nothing is doing.
They also have significant leadership roles. Nothing announces that Jesper is “the visionary behind Nothing’s design world” and Tom Howard from Teenage’s design team will take over as Nothing’s Head of Design.
That work has evidently begun; Nothing says “over the past months, their unique craftsmanship and thorough experience in industrial design have been instrumental in shaping Nothing’s design identity.”
There’s this video with Tom and Jesper:
Jesper writes in the letter a somewhat cryptic statement:
for over a decade, we have been thinking about instruments, user interfaces, electronics and sound. endless prototypes have been built and a majority of them have been rejected. now here’s the interesting part – some were rejected not because they were bad but because they didn’t fit our vision – and our focus on sound.
So basically, partnering with Nothing means they can expand design work to other products and actually realize them. That said, keep in mind this company has done an instant camera and a hackable IKEA speaker range. There were also wild projects, some not fully finished, including modular bicycle and lighting systems. (I think at one point the bikes, lights, and synths were all meant to work together. The synth was even going to make sound for the bikes.)
Jesper goes on to explain the personal connection:
I met Carl for the first time in October last year, we talked for an hour, a week later we agreed and everything has moved very fast since then.
They promise a “split vision” and that “this new decade we will focus on sound and nothing” as “our wild vision of future products just got accelerated.”
Jesper does make mention of the OP-1 at its ten-year anniversary and says he’s “looking forward to when we can all get together and make noise again.”
Hey, if they stay as crazy as always, I’m onboard, especially in the somewhat hyper-normalized and conservative world of consumer electronics. We’ll have to watch to see what something comes out of this.
a new vision.
for over a decade, we have been thinking about
instruments, user interfaces, electronics and sound.
endless prototypes have been built and a majority of
them have been rejected. now here’s the interesting part —
some were rejected not because they were bad but
because they didn’t fit our vision — and our focus on sound.
but today that will change, as | am writing to you to
officially announce that teenage engineering are
co-founders at nothing.
this new company will be based in london and |s
headed by carl pei, former co-founder of one plus.
i met carl for the first time in october last year, we talked
for an hour, a week later we agreed and everything has
moved very fast since then, leading up to today when we
finally can talk more freely about tt.
nothing will open up a whole new universe for teenage
engineering where we can create and design products
that we just couldn’t do before. and with this, our wild
vision of future products just got accelerated.
so, this new decade we will focus on sound and nothing.
call it split vision if you like.
by the way, this year we will celebrate the 10th year
anniversary of the OP-1 and i want to personally thank all
of you who have been with us since the start. thank you
for the trust, the patience and for the creative feedback.
looking forward to when we all can get together and
make noise again.
For now, Nothing just has an Instagram page
See also their investors.
A good reminder of the Teenagers’ contribution to music making: