Late last month, Andy Rubin, the creator of the Android, debuted a premium device called the Essential phone. It’s a high-end Android-based handset that blends top notch construction with Rubin’s own design and tech philosophy. And it has the opportunity to be a game-changer.
Even if it can’t pull significant market share away from Apple and Samsung (and really, that might be a doomed mission from the start), Rubin’s Essential company can still shake up the smartphone industry. Here are five ways that the Essential phone could change the game.
5 High-End, Durable Construction
The Essential phone really is a thing of beauty, featuring a stunning edge-to-edge, bezel-free display that even manages to outdo Samsung’s Galaxy S8 by stretching all the way to the top of the device. The phone is also built using a mixture of titanium and ceramic, a construction the company says allows the phone to be dropped with minimal damage “unlike the aluminum competitor devices.” Indeed, everything about the Essential phone speaks to this commitment to “craftsmanship” rather than manufacturing.
The Essential phone also has another trick up its sleeve: modularity — something that Apple and Samsung flagships currently lack. Alongside the phone itself, Essential is also debuting a proprietary method of easily attaching accessories to the smartphone via small metal pins. One of those accessories is a detachable 360-degree camera, which the company calls “the world’s smallest.” Other accessories include a magnetically attached phone dock, and that’s just at launch. While other modular phones might largely have failed, it’ll be interesting to see where Essential takes it own modular capability, especially since the platform will be “open-sourced” to allow for third-party accessories.
3 Deep Smart-Home Connectivity
The Essential phone — and its modular accessories — is also tailor-made for connectivity with the company’s Essential Home device. This is important because the Essential Home doesn’t seek solely to be a competitor to products like Amazon Echo or Apple HomeKit: it’s made to work with and bring those devices together. The Essential Home will work seamlessly with Alexa, Siri and the Google Assistant — bringing together separate APIs to create a smooth experience. Add the Essential Phone to the mix and you can only imagine what kind of connected and open-source world Rubin hopes to create.
2 No Branding
Sure, at the surface, this seems like a small detail. And sure, it may be a bit of a marketing gimmick. But the fact that the device ships without any logos or company branding could speak to Essential’s deeper philosophy: placing the consumer over the company. This is also indicative of Rubin’s deeper belief that open platforms are inherently better than closed ones. It’s hard to say at this point, but it’s worth venturing that this belief will carry on into other facets of the Essential phone. For example, the version of Android that it runs on will probably be devoid of sluggish, preloaded apps and bloatware. And the Essential phone might have more opportunities to be customized to its user, becoming more of a bespoke device than a mass-market handset. It’s a small thing, but something that’s almost unheard of in the high-end smartphone market.
1 It’s Different
But beyond all of its features, the one thing that makes the Essential phone standout the most is that it’s an outlier. It’s becoming increasingly tough to fight against giants like Apple and Samsung, but Rubin hopes to change that narrative. Even if it doesn’t do things better, it could certainly do things differently. If we know anything about rebel and underdog companies — like Apple once was — we know that they can be wellsprings of innovation, pulling the rest of the industry in their direction. The Essential phone ultimately might not be a Galaxy or iPhone killer (and it likely won’t be), but maybe that’s not the point. If Essential can become a viable third option for a high-end smartphone, then Rubin’s goal would have been realized.