As a child of the ‘90s, born 32 long years ago, I remember a time when transparent tech was all the rage. Whether we’re talking GameBoys, corded phones, floppy disks, or the ever-colorful iMac G3, transparent shells elevated our gadgets to another level — and granted us a glimpse as the mysterious electrical innards.
But it’s not the ‘90s anymore, and transparent gadgets are about as popular as frosted tips, describing stuff as “fly” and Vanilla Ice’s singing career. Yet there are companies like Nothing that seem hell-bent on bringing transparency back to the world. Unfortunately, that’s now gone beyond phones and into the world of USB-C cables.
Ahead of the launch of the Nothing Phone (2), founder Carl Pei has been showing off the transparent USB-C cable. Or rather it’s a USB-C cable with transparent connectors, since the cable itself appears to be solid white. Regardless, it feels like this is going a step too far — even if it's completely on brand.
pic.twitter.com/LOYjBLa5UZJune 19, 2023
Let’s have more transparent tech, but please be sensible
I would love to see a proper resurgence in transparent gadgets at some point in the near future. It gets teased every now and again, but nothing ever really comes to fruition. In fact, Nothing is the only phone company that seems to take the concept seriously, as demonstrated by the phones and earbuds it’s released over the past few years.
Back when I was a kid the GameBoy Color was the closest thing any of us had to a smartphone, and the transparent purple model was generally considered the coolest one. Or at least it was at my school, because none of us were old enough to enjoy unrestricted access to the not-quite fledgling late-90s internet.
Just last week I received an email from dbrand, the makers of the slimmed down PS5 Darkplates, because they’ve just launched a wave of new “retro plates” that look incredibly cool. So instead of using solid opaque plastic, these plates are translucent enough to see what’s happening right under the surface.
There isn’t a whole lot happening, since the PS5’s innards are sealed inside an interior shell, but you get that glimpse into the console’s inner workings — which is enough to add that extra wow factor to the PS5. Because, let’s face it, the PS5 is not a good looking console, and even the smallest improvement can go a long way.
Still, considering all the myriad of colors that modern smartphones come in, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the likes of Apple or Samsung to offer a transparent option as well. Just one, make it a retailer exclusive if need be, but let’s have someone other than Nothing offer us a device with that eye-catching x-ray effect.
But for the love of all that’s right, let’s not go overboard. Because there’s no reason to need a transparent power cable.
There’s little to love about a partially transparent cable
As much as I love a good gimmick, it’s obvious to me that a transparent cable is not that. Mainly because the cable Pei posted on his Twitter account looks really plain and boring. While the Nothing Phone (1) lets you see various pieces of the phone’s innards — like the wireless charging coil.
Obviously your view is limited by the complexities of a smartphone, and the fact it’s a little more complex than the GameBoy Color’s single circuit board, but there’s something interesting to see beyond the glossy exterior of the phone. The cable doesn’t really offer that because all you can see is a metal block that makes up the rest of the USB-C connector.
With nothing to really see, it makes little sense to let us see it. It’s not interesting and mysterious, like the innards of a more complex device, and it’s just kind of… there. Offering a transparent cable feels like a decision that was done for the sake of keeping things on brand.
If you’re going to invest time and resources making your cables unique (within the confines of the law), you may as well offer something that is different and useful, rather than just different. As my colleagues at Tom’s Guide have noted, a light-up USB-C cable would have been a much better option. Not only is it a quick and accessible light source, it means you never have to worry about struggling to plug your phone in at night ever again.
Sure, Pei’s cable teaser does seem to feature six miniature LEDs along the side of the USB-C connector. But it’s unclear if these will be bright enough to offer some practical value, or if they’re simply there as decoration like the Nothing Phone (1)’s light-up glyph interface.
Right now the justification for a transparent USB-C cable seems pretty weak, much as I’d love other companies to follow Nothing’s embrace of x-ray vision tech. But then again we are still only at the teaser stage, and Nothing could have a little bit more waiting in the wings. Or it could have nothing at all.
We’ll have to wait until July 11 for more details, since that’s the day the Nothing Phone (2) is set to launch. The device is set to come with a 6.67-inch AMOLED display, a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset, a 4,700 mAh battery, and the same transparent aesthetic the company is known for. You can read all about what we know so far in our Nothing Phone (2) hub.