OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019.
Steve Jennings | Getty Images for TechCrunch
LONDON — Carl Pei, the co-founder of Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus, is starting afresh.
The Chinese-born Swedish entrepreneur formed a new consumer tech company called Nothing late last year. The firm is set to launch its first product, a pair of wireless earbuds called Ear 1, sometime in June.
While specs for Nothing’s earphones haven’t yet been revealed, Pei hints that they will be minimalistic in terms of features. Rather than “20 different levels” of noise cancellation, for example, Pei says people only need a maximum of two or three settings. Nothing’s products will also have a “retro futuristic” design, Pei said, adding that the company spent a lot of time perfecting its design philosophy.
“We want to bring this element of human warmth back into our products,” Pei told CNBC in an interview.
“Products are not just cold electronics,” he added. “They’re designed by people and intelligently used by people. It feels like product companies (today) are run by large corporations.”
OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei’s new start-up, Nothing, revealed the name of its upcoming wireless earbuds on Tuesday: Ear 1.
Pei and former colleague Pete Lau founded OnePlus in 2013. OnePlus, which is majority-owned by China’s Oppo, a subsidiary of Guangzhou-based BBK Electronics, gained notoriety for making cheap Android phones with decent specs. Pei left the company in October to start his new hardware venture.
Pei hopes his new company Nothing, which is based in London, will shape the consumer tech industry in the same way that Apple’s iMac G3 shook up the PC market in the late 90s and early 2000s. “Today it’s like the PC industry in the 80s and 90s, where everybody made grey boxes,” he said.
The 31-year old tech entrepreneur says he was once Apple’s “biggest fan” but that, over the last couple years, “it just felt like, as a whole, innovation has slowed down a lot.”
Apple’s iPhone was a game changer, ushering in a shift to touchscreen-based mobile phones and apps that have spawned several billion-dollar companies. But some feel the modern smartphone industry has stagnated, introducing only minor updates each year, albeit at higher prices. Major companies are attempting to refresh smartphones with superfast 5G wireless internet and even folding displays.
“There’s a general feeling of, ‘Why should I upgrade my tech?’ because each new generation is sort of similar to the previous one” Pei added. “In the past, people were so optimistic about technology. But now people are indifferent. And there must be a way of breaking the cycle.”
Apple declined to comment when contacted by CNBC. Apple has made a number of improvements to the iPhone over the years, including 5G and its powerful new A14 Bionic chip. Other recent product launches include new high-end iPads, colorful iMacs and lost-item trackers called AirTags.
Pei was born in Beijing but grew up in Sweden. He remembers his uncle, who worked for Nokia, used to give him old handsets to play around with. Pei dropped out of college in 2011 to work in the Chinese…