It's the look and feel – efficient, unobtrusive, futuristic. It's going to feel right at home on the iPhone, a sleek device crafted with immaculate precision. It has been widely reported that Apple is thinking along the same lines, too. There's one thing we absolutely hope it's going to avoid, though.
Something about the Essential phone's front camera placement really irks us. Yes, it's a clever decision that produced a functional result, as well as a notable design characteristic that's sparking headlines. Not necesarilly glowing ones, though, and here's why. Punching a hole in the screen itself is completely over the top, in a way where the engineering's efficiency simply isn't matched by the all-important aesthetics.
After all, this is the company which pioneered (and sadly, discarded) the MagSafe laptop adapter and supplies a magnetic charger with its best-selling smartwach that we're talking about! Why, what's wrong with it? Well, first off, it's a proprietary standard. Until the industry shakes hands and agrees on a magnetic connection standard, we'll most likely have to deal with each manufacturer's caprice. Second...
What we'd rather not see: obvious magnetic pins.
The Essential phone's magnetic pins are an eyesore! When left unoccupied by accessories, which is most of the time, they look weird and not at all seamless, as they ought to be.
We're pretty sure there's a way of making pins discrete. And if there isn't one right now, there better be when smartphone magnetism becomes a thing. Can you picture the iPhone with big ol' magni-pins on its back? Very un-Apple!
What we'd like to see: a heavy metal build
The Essential is another high-end phone distanced from the aluminum/glass build we've grown largely indifferent to. The industry is slowly moving on and heading in less charted territories, such as stainless steel, ceramic, and (in this case) titanium.
The hard material looks as compelling as aluminum, but it's much more resilient. You'll have a hard time scratching or scuffing the Essential's frame, whereas aluminum is a relatively soft metal by comparison.
The industry is looking hard beyond aluminum
Apple is rumored to be experimenting with stainless steel to toughen up the next iPhone. So chances are Cupertuno is too moving in the same forward-looking direction as the Essential! However...
What we'd rather not see: a logo-less iPhone
... stripping the logo entirely off? What the heck is wrong with those strict engineers at Essential? Will Porsche not put its logo on its latest masterpiece because it would 'depersonalize' the automobile? It's an odd, regressive decision conforming to heady principles.
What Essential should have done is explore the opportunity to design a symbolic logo and make it a recognizable part of its products' appearance. You know, like Apple. We're pretty sure Cupertino won't push a logo-less anything, ever, so we aren't worried one bit about losing the 'swag'. And we'd rather see the next Essential phone properly branded.
What we'd like to see: dual cameras
We like that the Essential phone has a dual camera setup, it goes with the times and it's somewhat expected of high-end phones. And the iPhone 7 Plus
has been rocking a duo-cam with great success.
Not all dual cameras are made equal
Android manufacturers tried out different approaches - Huawei and Essential delegated detail photography to a secondary monochrome sensor. LG added a wide-angle lens for expansive vistas and group shots. Apple developed a telephoto lens, bringing true optical zoom to smartphones. There's clearly lots of potential in the technology, but one is clearly ahead of the pack.
What we'd rather not see: a color-monochrome sensor setup.
Theoretically, this arrangement is capable of superb photography. The monochrome sensor doesn't lose detail by filtering light to distinguish colors, it's supposed to capture literally everything sans colors. Combine its output with a good color sensor, and magic happens by itself, right?
So far, we aren't convinced. We have two generations of Huawei phones with such cameras, co-developed with Leica's hundred years of expertise. We saw good, even great shots, but no magic whatsoever. They do not stand out in a tangible, distinct way next to photos from quality single cameras like Samsung's. If the combined forces of Huawei and Leica couldn't get the ball rolling, chances are Essential won't, either. We're yet to see camera samples, we might be proven wrong.
Apple, meanwhile, gave the dual camera a clear, definite purpose that any user can appreciate beyond a shred of doubt. It lands glorious portrait shots with the kind of natural bokeh reserved for DSLR cameras. It provides limited, but high quality optical zoom. That's enough to delight users and it's smart use of advanced, intricate technology in the interest of consumers rather than PR. Apple's duo-cam game is bound to get even more impressive and we're very curious what the upcoming iPhone has in store.
What we'd like to see: a full-blown smart home ecosystem
In addition to a smartphone that intrigued us as much as to see potential 'next iPhone' features in it, Essential unveiled a bona-fide rival to Amazon and Google's smart speakers. These devices are emerging as notable AI technology frontiers, as well as smart home voice control hubs. So the Essential Home, as it's called, is a big deal.
The upcoming Siri speaker is a missing link
Andy Rubin, the Android originator and Essential mastermind, touted a smart home-ready operating system. Ambient OS is supposed to learn your habitat inside and out, complete with layouts, other humans or non-humans living there, and whatever services and connected devices can be engaged.
The OS is said to be bringing all connected things together, with the OS acting as an API (programming interface) an “API” for combining them in ways that suit you and your habits - like turning the heating on minutes before you arrive from work.
Another interesting moment is all the processing is being run on the Essential Home. This way, storing sensitive personal data in the cloud gets avoided whenever possible. Data is saved mostly on-device, while smart machines are talked to over local network when possible.
Ambient OS and the Essential Home are the makings of a highly sophisticated smart ecosystem. Rubin and Co's ideas hit the right spots, and will, hopefully, materialize. Apple is already headed in a similar direction by advancing HomeKit, its framework for smart things built into iOS.
At present, HomeKit handles the essentials of smart device controls with Siri's assistance, and benefits from the support of over 50 accessory makers alongside Apple's vast research resource. There's a single piece missing from the puzzle, however, and that's the hub. An iPhone's an iPhone, a hub's a hub. Its place is strictly in-house, AI algorithms on top of everything going on within it. Apple is making one, and hopefully, it won't make the single mistake the competition keeps commiting.
What we'd rather not see: another 'gadget' technophile-ing the living room
Enough with the gadgets!
It's a bit of a pet peeve, but we all deserve nice things, right? So stick with us. The Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home speakers may be doing brilliant things, but they don't look good in the living room. They are cheaply made and not at all elegant. The Amazon Echo Show looks like an intercom from the 70s minus the vintage charm, and the Essential Home is a weird half-sphere reminiscent of a digital water well.
Visually, these smart things come across as mere gadgets, whereas they should be something you're proud to have in your connected living room as the final brink in a complex, invisible chain. They ought to exude class, style, and restraint.
Design could be the single biggest avenue where Apple's upcoming Siri-powered smart speaker will shine. This company knows how to make a freaking PC - the Mac Mini, or even the big Macs- add a hip vibe to any room.
Hopefully, its speaker will do the same and blow those unsightly gadgets away while matching or exceeding their functionality! Then we'll have one of the best smart ecosystems around, and the iPhone 8
will play a major part in it.
Let us know what you think in the comments below!