The Essential Phone was designed to flop

The Essential Phone was designed to flop

The tech-obsessed parts of the internet exploded yesterday when Andy Rubin's new company, Essential, debuted its upcoming first smartphone, the Essential Phone, and smart home speaker, the Essential Home. And it's fair to say most people were impressed, if a bit skeptical: even if the devices seem pretty good for a first try, this is, after all, yet another newcomer that tries to reinvent the smartphone in some way.

The first thing one might notice when looking at the Essential Phone is its curious design: the large, bezel-less screen's top is cut to make room for the front-facing camera, a concept we've seen in many fan renders in the past, but not in an actual commercial product; while the device's frame is made out of titanium, a material rarely found in smartphones. But then there's also the magnetic accessory pins on the back, which allure to a bright future of effortlessly usable wireless accessories.

But here's the thing: while it's hard to argue the Phone has its merits, almost everyone can agree on one thing: with a $700 price tag and several glaring feature omissions, a phone from a startup that is completely unknown to the general consumer simply won't sell that well. But rather than start writing our eulogies just a day after the phone was announced, let's instead examine the situation from a different standpoint: that the Essential Phone wasn't actually made to sell units.

Follow the money


In almost every industry, when a company does something curious and seemingly illogical (such as releasing a quirky-looking, expensive flagship in an oversaturated market), a good way to find out what exactly its intentions are is to simply follow the money: how and why could such a move benefit said company? So here we need to take a look at Essential – not the products, but the company itself.



In an hour-long interview today (embedded above), Andy Rubin shared how Essential, as well as the titular Phone, came to existence. In short, there exists a company called Playground (also founded and led by Rubin himself), which acts as an 'incubator' for tech startups – this is where Essential got its start, as well as part of its initial funding. But here's where things get a little tricky: that startup cash may have been enough to design and launch a duo of new products (trio, if count the 360° camera as well), but it most probably isn't enough to sustain it for much longer after that.

And with the general problem of hardware startups not having a user base at all, the prospect of relying on sales profits is a pretty far-fetched one – most consumers only trust a couple of brands, and competition in the smartphone market is also especially fierce. So since sales won't make enough of a profit, more capital needs to be raised from investors to ensure the company's continued existence.

But while Rubin's reputation may have been enough to raise the initial necessary cash, things should start getting a bit more complicated once an actual product gets launched: this is the stage where all the behind-the-curtain promises can be broken, and so the end product needs to be impressive. That is, few people would happily jump on board to fund yet another company that has only proved itself capable of making boring, cookie cutter devices – there's simply too much competition in this space already.

The Apple factor


The Essential Phone was designed to flop

But you know where there isn't competition? Well, you probably do, given that it's written right there in the subtitle. When it comes to smartphones, pretty much every player out there wants to become the next Apple – that's what making the best-selling product of its kind gives you.

So it's only natural that Andy Rubin, the man who created Apple's biggest potential threat in the mobile space, would want to take the crown for himself. Or at least, that's what it's supposed to look like on the surface: while most people would tell you that toppling Apple over is entirely unrealistic, their opinion isn't what matters – what matters is the investors' opinion, and they're all desperately looking for the next Apple.

So when you really need money, as is Essential's case, but you can't get it without convincing a bunch of very rich people they'll get a good return on their investment – why not focus your product development on proving to them you're the Next Big Thing, rather than hoping to catch the everyday consumer's eye in an already overcrowded market? So when you're looking at the Essential Phone through that lens, the similarities between it and an iPhone become not a coincidence, but rather a deliberate design choice made to appeal to a very specific circle of people.


The unique visual design? One of the iPhone's biggest selling points is the fact that it's good-looking and immediately recognizable. So proving you can make a device that both stands out from the crowd but still looks good is, well, essential. The accessory connector on the back? iPhones have this thing called the Lightning port on the bottom, the ecosystem for which is entirely controlled by Apple, who also conveniently collects a ton of licensing fees from third-party manufacturers. And while Rubin claims the wireless connection is based on the USB standard, he certainly hasn't claimed the specs will be freely available for everyone to use. Or in other words, this is a huge potential cash cow, a thing investors love.

Even the omission of a 3.5 mm headphone jack could be viewed as a cheap way to draw subliminal parallels to the iPhone 7, which sold a record number of devices without including one, either. Then there's also the top-of-the-line specs, which prove Essential will be targeting the premium market as well. So combine all these factors and you might just get a recipe for a second round of funding from investors who want a slice of that Apple pie.

Sustainability


The Essential Phone was designed to flop
But this is, admittedly, a somewhat simplistic look at Essential's business model – this approach might work for a device generation or two, but is simply not sustainable after that. So the startup also needs to capture an audience as well. Luckily for it, all the design decisions in the Essential Phone also work out to a pretty eye-catching combination as well, and if it plays its cards right, vis-à-vis software, marketing, and carrier distribution deals, users might well start noticing there's a new player in the game. And by generation two, the market might just be ready for them to enter in a serious manner.

To do so, however, Essential needs to also build a better next phone, one that plugs the holes present in the current model. This presents a bit of a problem for today's potential buyers, though: when the better, flashier Phone v2 launches, will they be left behind? Essential has so far not taken any stance on software, besides saying that the Phone will run Android, so such a risk is certainly present (though the magnetic accessory connector is said to remain the same in the future).

So if one accepts the theory that the Essential Phone isn't initially primed for a straight-out consumer success, buying it becomes a somewhat less enticing proposition – sure, it's an okay device, but it has a couple of big feature omissions and virtually no guarantees of support, both problems that don't exactly fit its $700 price tag. But even if its first phone doesn't turn into a smash hit, as we expect it won't, it'll still be interesting to see what's next in line for the company

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  • Display 5.7" 1312 x 2560 pixels
  • Camera 13 MP / 8 MP front
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  • Storage 128 GB
  • Battery 3040 mAh

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69 Comments

1. dubaiboy78

Posts: 442; Member since: Sep 19, 2014

Camera location in front of screen is f**king ugly!

8. Bankz

Posts: 2502; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

The essential phone seems to be lacking the essentials.

20. BuffaloSouce

Posts: 1251; Member since: May 01, 2017

You mean like how the iPhone has been lacking with features android has had for years and is just now starting to catch up

50. Trex95

Posts: 2364; Member since: Mar 03, 2013

You mean gimmicky features that comes with Android OEM's!.

26. Mobilephile

Posts: 165; Member since: Nov 25, 2012

Lol. Good it's different but for now, I'd still pick the Mi Mix over this.

33. sgodsell

Posts: 7005; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Not even close. The iPhone 7 or 7 plus use cat 9 LTE. Bluetooth 4.2, slow proprietary lightning port, HD or full HD display. This smartphone has cat 16 LTE or 1 gigabit, Bluetooth 5, USB-C, QHD display wit 85% screen, dual 13 mp cameras, a 8 mp front facing camera, Android Nougat 7.1. If any phone is missing the essentials, then it's clearly​the iPhone's that are missing. Especially for what Apple's selling price is. Apple is a rip off compared to this smartphone.

40. Ocr22

Posts: 29; Member since: May 12, 2017

Exactly couldnt have said it better . iphone arena is always trying to make it look like the iphone is the best phone out there. And try to make other phones look like their bad when in reality every android phone out there is better than the newest iPhone in everything haha specs and all .

48. joeboxer

Posts: 51; Member since: Feb 19, 2015

like, whatever happened to the saygus v2 or whatever, that phone had everything

49. joeboxer

Posts: 51; Member since: Feb 19, 2015

when that was first announced, i remember all the hype

13. Ray.S

Posts: 452; Member since: Jul 19, 2011

Indeed.

60. xeroxchap

Posts: 68; Member since: Oct 11, 2016

Like you Ray s... u lack all the essentials of being and ethical writer... how much do u get paid by your fruit?

17. Jason2k13

Posts: 1450; Member since: Mar 28, 2013

Yep, I lost interest in the phone after seeing that ugly camera cut out. Everything else is fine.

2. HugoBarraCyanogenmod

Posts: 1412; Member since: Jul 06, 2014

It's indeed designed to flopped, however, this is just a beginning for a startup, as they make this bezeless phone to seek attention to the matured market. It may be flopped today, but who knows the future? 10 years back people also saying iPhone was a flopped that has no Adobe flash, no SD card blah blah

16. Bankz

Posts: 2502; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

^This

3. Settings

Posts: 2943; Member since: Jul 02, 2014

So a holeless phone doesn't have a chance to gain marketshare? You judged the fate of a device based on it's looks. Basically, anything non-Apple or non-Samsung doesn't do well with this site. Also, you forgot the editorial tag.

15. Bankz

Posts: 2502; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

The essential phone is a heck of release tbh, especially for a first time. What i don't understand is why they think this phone isn't going to be a hit. The phone, while obviously missing some essentials has everything to be a hit. Futuristic design, sd 835, ufs 2.1, dual cameras, stock android, 128gig storage, 4gig ram, perfect fps placement, made of titanium (which is scratch and shatter resistant) and they still think this phone was designed to flop? Infact, i'd like to know what flagship has been better than the essential in 2017 so far. Is it the the huawei p10? g6? u11? Sony? Op5? MZ2? The gs8 is the only arguable exception tbh..

61. TeriusRose

Posts: 108; Member since: May 12, 2017

I have never seen any proof that spec sheets play a significant role in how the average consumer picks their smartphone(s). At least not beyond simple things like a camera, where megapixel count is used as a marketing gimmick. The argument is this. How many people outside of the tech community do you honestly think are going to shell out $700 for a phone from a company they've never heard of before, as opposed to picking up an iPhone or a Galaxy? Once a market becomes well-established, it is very difficult to break into. Especially with anything dealing with tech or transport. Oneplus and a handful of other Chinese companies have more or less done that, but that is nearly exclusively in China itself in most cases.

67. ChazzMatt

Posts: 104; Member since: Sep 26, 2013

The Essential Android phone is a loser, especially in light of other 2017 Android phones: * No 1440p (Only 1312p which is ALMOST QHD. For the money they are charging, should be full 1440p. I've had 1440p AMOLED since 2014, and I'm not downgrading. Even Apple is finally going to 1440p this year.)) * No headset jack * Battery way too small for the display size (Don't say use is "optimized". Give me a larger battery first, then optimize all you want to make it BETTER. Lesser spec phones this year have 4000 mAh, even 5000 mAh batteries. I have 3900 mAh on my 5.2" 1440p AMOLED Moto XT1225, so it's not hard for a competent manufacturer to do. Nobody is begging for credit card thin phones, while everyone wants a larger battery. Again, for the money, why are you skimping on a battery?) * No front-facing stereo speakers * No IP68 water resistance (nor any water resistance whatsoever, when this is becoming standard) * No Qi built-in wireless charging (It has a ceramic back, in spite of the "titanium" claim. Even Apple is adding Qi wireless charging this year, LG has added it back, Samsung never dropped it. If I have to plug a mod in for some kind of wireless charging then that prevents other mods. BUILT IN Qi wireless charging.) So, NO sale. It’s not hard to include all those specs. Why won’t someone do it? All we want is a an UPDATED "regular" sized Moto Nexus 6 (440p AMOLED, front-facing speakers, Qi wireless charging, headset jack) -- but with a bigger battery, like the 2014 5.2" 1440p AMOLED Moto Quark which has a 3900 mAh battery. (Yeah, Motorola gave the smaller phone the BIGGER battery.) As I said before, phones with lesser specs this year have 4000 or even 5000 mAh batteries. It's not hard. Throw in IP68 water resistance. Done.

4. DoggyDangerous

Posts: 1028; Member since: Aug 28, 2015

Which big feature omission it has?? I don't see any, except 3.5mm jack. Which is gaining popularity in OEMs.

68. ChazzMatt

Posts: 104; Member since: Sep 26, 2013

* No 1440p (Only 1312p which is ALMOST QHD. For the money they are charging, should be full 1440p. I've had 1440p AMOLED since 2014, and I'm not downgrading. Even Apple is finally going to 1440p this year.)) * No headset jack * Battery way too small for the display size (Don't say use is "optimized". Give me a larger battery first, then optimize all you want to make it BETTER. Lesser spec phones this year have 4000 mAh, even 5000 mAh batteries. I have 3900 mAh on my 5.2" 1440p AMOLED Moto XT1225, so it's not hard for a competent manufacturer to do. Nobody is begging for credit card thin phones, while everyone wants a larger battery. Again, for the money, why are you skimping on a battery?) * No front-facing stereo speakers * No IP68 water resistance (nor any water resistance whatsoever, when this is becoming standard) * No Qi built-in wireless charging (It has a ceramic back, in spite of the "titanium" claim. Even Apple is adding Qi wireless charging this year, LG has added it back, Samsung never dropped it. If I have to plug a mod in for some kind of wireless charging then that prevents other mods. BUILT IN Qi wireless charging.) So, NO sale. It’s not hard to include all those specs. Why won’t someone do it? All we want is a an UPDATED "regular" sized Moto Nexus 6 (440p AMOLED, front-facing speakers, Qi wireless charging, headset jack) -- but with a bigger battery, like the 2014 5.2" 1440p AMOLED Moto Quark which has a 3900 mAh battery. (Yeah, Motorola gave the smaller phone the BIGGER battery.) As I said before, phones with lesser specs this year have 4000 or even 5000 mAh batteries. It's not hard. Throw in IP68 water resistance. Done.

5. fyah_king unregistered

IPhone= good-looking? It's one of the ugliest phone around.lol People buy it for the '

11. Bankz

Posts: 2502; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

The iphone (whichever version) is damn good looking and is among the best looking phones of all time. The iphone 4 series was a masterpiece and a design revolution, the iphone 5 series was a design masterpiece, the iphone 6 series is the most popular and most copied phone design of all time and the iphone 8 will most probably push the boundaries and be an all time design revolution too. So stop it with the ignorance.

21. aegislash

Posts: 1457; Member since: Jan 27, 2015

Bankz, I agree with you about the iPhone having a great design...but c'mon, man, that's some TechieXP level response right there. I mean, saying the iPhone is ugly, is an opinion...how exactly is someone "ignorant" by calling a phone ugly?

30. Bankz

Posts: 2502; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

Yeah, i guess i overreacted. Its just that any body who has seeing the iphone knows that its a looker. Btw, on a lighter note, have u actually seeing of techies kind of replies? Those are epic, lol.

22. AxelFoley unregistered

"the iphone 6 series is the most popular and most copied phone design of all time" Wouldn't this actually mean that the HTC One M8 is the most copied design of all time since the iphone 6 series copied it?

24. aegislash

Posts: 1457; Member since: Jan 27, 2015

Axel, not at all. That's like saying the every device with a fingerprint scanner takes inspiration from the Moto Atrix. Sure, HTC did the antenna lines first...but virtually no one else did so, until Apple did it with the 6/6 Plus. So technically, while Apple wasn't the first to do it, they got the trend going.

63. tedkord

Posts: 17184; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Translation - they copied it. And, the similarities hardly boil down to just the antenna lines. The entire design is heavily borrowed from HTC.

31. Bankz

Posts: 2502; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

Whats so similar between the ip6 and the m8? One has fps the other has non, one has speakers on the front the other has one on the bottom, one is flat and the other is curved, one has dual vertically arranged cameras while the other has a single potruding camera on the edge. The iphones even used metals before the m8, so, aside the antenna lines, what does the ip6 and the m8 have in common?

59. Sammy_DEVIL737

Posts: 1529; Member since: Nov 28, 2016

Ya even pixels design is also inspired from iphone 6

41. cmdacos

Posts: 3959; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

IPhone 4 was the last great design in my opinion. 6 through 7 are very bland and uninspiring.

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