The Essential Phone: Android co-founder’s company closing down

It’s not even been 3 years since Essential, the smartphone startup from Android co-founder Andy Rubin, launched its first smartphone: The Essential Phone. Despite some solid interest and a decent track record when it came updates, the company announced the news on its official blog earlier, and also said that the Essential Phone (PH-1) will not be getting anymore updates—so far, updates have been on par with the Google Pixels, in terms of frequency and timeliness.

As part of the company wind down, the security update for PH-1 released on February 3 is the last update from the Essential software team. Your PH-1 will continue to work but we will not be providing any additional updates or customer support. Current Newton Mail users will have access to the service through April 30, 2020.

The news is pretty surprising, I suppose, with Essential earlier showing off a new—weird-looking—smartphone in its testing stages. The new Essential Phone had a strange form-factor: long and narrow, almost like a TV remote control. Additionally, Rubin talked about a “new UI for a radically different form-factor”, and the “GEM Colorshift material” of the phone was also something pretty interesting. Now, it appears, the entire Project GEM has been scrapped.

“But the team at Essential explains that there is “no clear path to deliver [Project GEM] to customers. Given this, we have made the difficult decision to cease operations and shutdown Essential.”

Essential was also rumoured to be developing a smart home assistant and an OS, but these projects never materialised into actual products that we could see. Regardless, the news that a tech startup—one with a history of doing this differently—is at the end of the road, despite controversy surrounding its founder, is sad to hear. Previously, a report from the New York Times alleged that sexual misconduct from Rubin led to his departure from search engine giant, Google.

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In spite of all of that, Essential appeared to have all the ingredients for success—or at least, early on. The first Essential Phone was the first phone in the market to have a notch (not the iPhone X, as widely misconstrued), it had premium build quality, and of course, it had the expertise of the co-founder of Android behind it. And they’ve been pushing updates to the Essential Phone all along.

Still, the smartphone showed off by Rubin earlier (Project GEM) didn’t really look practical to me—and perhaps investors felt the same way. I would have loved to have seen the second Essential Phone make its way to the market (or at least into my hands for a review), but I think that Project GEM was always pre-destined to remain as a concept phone.

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