Carl Pei, the man behind the Nothing Phone (2), has announced a new venture. And it goes against everything he said Nothing would do to the smartphone market.

That’s right, Nothing is creating a (get ready to yawn) budget tech brand called CMF. Standing for Colour, Material and Finish, CMF’s name is as uninspiring as its purpose.

After an exciting and genuinely interesting entry into the stagnant world of smartphones with the Nothing Phone (1), lots of people thought Nothing could drag the market in a new direction. And they did. A bit.

Glyph Interface (the flashy lights)? Cool. Camera? Not bad, nothing special. Bespoke Nothing OS based on Android? Good but not revolutionary. 

Nothing’s phones are interesting, that’s undeniable. And they are different in some limited ways, but ultimately they are smartphones that do pretty much everything an iPhone or Samsung can, often with slightly worse specs.

So where has CMF come from and where does it fit into the tech revolution Carl Pei supposedly wants? Just a warning, I’m a bit grumpy about all this.

What is CMF by Nothing?

We don’t know much, but what we do know isn’t very exciting. So that’s good.

The Nothing Phone (2) release gained a lot of attention. It was, by all accounts, a stellar marketing success if nothing else. So, logically, Nothing has jumped on their own hype to keep the ball rolling by announcing CMF.

According to Nothing’s Q2 update video, Carl Pei says CMF will make technology “more accessible” and “democratic”. By that, he means CMF will make products that are cheaper to buy.

Pei goes on to say CMF shares the same DNA as Nothing, meaning the products will take a similar approach to design; bold, stripped-back and original. But there is no mention of anything beyond what the potential devices may look like. After all, the name alone is three words related to physical design alone.

This means that CMF won’t be making anything actually new like software or some wonder product. It will just be making products available on a smaller budget. And that is pretty much it.

Seriously, for a company so focused on being, at the very least, interesting, their latest announcement is not only boring but so uninspiring. There is nothing more to say about what CMF is other than it’ll make more affordable products.

I could talk about those products but even that’s dull.

Oh ok then. I will. But only so I can moan about them!

What products will CMF make?

So far, Carl Pei has announced a smartwatch and earbuds.

Now, Nothing has already released two editions of the Nothing Ear, their own wireless earbuds. So it begs the question; what exactly will CMF earbuds be like? Will they look the same but just be worse in terms of sound quality and battery life?

If so, then it touches on my argument below; what’s the point if the entire motivation of Nothing is to not produce tech that pollutes an already crowded and drab market? Nothing Ear is at least interesting in how it looks. But if CMF’s earbuds are just a poorer quality reskin, then what makes them different from a similarly cheap pair of wireless earbuds?

The same goes for smartwatches. CMF will give us a Nothing-esque smartwatch for ‘affordable’ prices. We can assume it will look different, probably with a steampunky robot aesthetic. Great. But if it’s nothing more than that, I cannot help but shrug my shoulders. A cheap smartwatch that isn’t innovative is throwing another piece of generic tech into the ether.

And there is nothing to suggest CMF’s release will be anything other than what I have described above. This is incredibly frustrating and, not going to lie, disappointing. I think I have a better acronym for CMF…

CMF or Contradictory Marketing Fluff

I’m sure you could hear my grumpiness coming through just then. Now I’ll get to it proper.

CMF is neither fun, revolutionary nor exciting, all the things Carl Pei promised when he launched the company alongside Casey Neistat.

Not only that, CMF goes against pretty much everything Pei said he disliked about the tech industry. Endless interviews document Pei chastising tech companies for churning out copycat products with hardly any innovation just because they need to meet a yearly release schedule.

Nothing promised not to do this. They promised not to continue polluting the market with bits of tech that are basically the same as last year’s and every competitor’s model. Nothing wanted a careful and considered approach to making stuff, taking time to refine and ensure what they were doing was meaningful.

But CMF laughs in the face of this sentiment. In fact, it rather aggressively flips the bird at it with both hands.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for cheaper tech (as long as that doesn’t mean an increase in exploitation along the production line somewhere), but this just seems so off for this specific company. 

I don’t care if CMF’s earbuds and smartwatch look different. At the end of the day, they perform exactly the same functions as their competitors. When I’m looking at a page of earbuds online, I may be drawn in by Nothing’s striking designs, but if the product isn’t as good as its nearest competition, I’m not going to buy it. 

In all honesty, I just don’t see how CMF’s budget restrictions will coincide with being the revolutionary force Pei wants to embody. Truly innovative products retail for a lot of money because they take a lot of money to produce. 

Vision Pro will cost megabucks because it is mindblowing. It has many features other devices don’t, and it’s taken a decade at least to get there. CMF will not be reinventing the earbud or smartwatch. At best, it will make those products to a good standard and then retail them for less than competitors. At worst, it will just be a factory for reskinned devices that have the Nothing feel.

Rounding up

None of those options are inspiring. CMF will be adding to the heap of products that already exist without offering anything truly radical. This is not inherently bad, but it is a far cry from the stringent values Pei applied to his own company when it launched. Values that Pei still claims to hold to this day.

And all of this is incredibly sad. The excitement around Nothing Phone (1) was palpable. It genuinely reinvigorated interest in the tech market. And their mission statement felt truly novel. 

We all hoped the days of Apple’s notch adjustments being the height of excitement were over. But as time has gone on, Nothing’s shine has begun to come off. Even Nothing Phone (2) showed little real advancement, aside from Nothing OS.

The phones themselves are no more competent than a Samsung or Apple phone. You can even buy a Google Pixel 7 Pro for nearly the same price (which is a better phone by the way)!

Basically, I’m sad. Sad because CMF seems to be the death knell of their revolutionary spirit. Nothing was meant to be the Messiah. But with CMF, it feels little more than your bog-standard street preacher.

Next up: Mark gets hands-on with the Samsung Z Flip5!