Andy Rubin’s smartphone startup, Essential, is finally dead. Today, Essential announced in a blog post that it is closing its doors, saying that, since it has “no clear path to deliver” its newest smartphone to customers, the company has “made the difficult decision to cease operations and shutdown Essential.”
Essential was Andy Rubin’s next company after his previous gig at Google, where he lead the development of Android, taking the OS from nothing to the world’s most popular operating system. Being “The Father of Android” meant venture capital firms would throw money at him when he left Google to form a new company. That company was Essential, where Andy Rubin jumped full time into smartphone hardware. The company was valued at $1.2 billion before it even sold a single product.
Essential ended up releasing a single smartphone, the Essential Phone, in 2017, along with two modular accessories: a $200 360-degree camera and a $150 clip-on headphone jack (yes, really). Since then, the company has just kind of hung around and canceled in-development products. It has done very little in the “selling things for money” category of business. Essential planned to sell a charging dock for the Essential Phone, but that product was never released. Alongside the phone, the company announced a smart display called the “Essential Home” and a new smart operating system called “Ambient OS,” but neither the hardware or software ever materialized.
The company canceled a straightforward sequel to the Essential Phone in 2018. By 2019, it was teasing “Project Gem”—a super-skinny smartphone with the form factor of a TV remote, which seemed like it would lack compatibility with most smartphone apps on the market. With today’s announcement, the Gem phone is dead, too.
In-between canceling products, Essential was a non-stop catastrophe of bad PR. The Essential Phone was delayed from its original launch date, and when the time finally came to take payments and ship the phone, the company botched the launch. Essential sent out a bizarre payment-processing email to some customers asking then to send in their photo IDs over email, then it accidentally CC’d that personal information to several other customers who bought Essential Phones. The move was one of the worst first impressions of all time, and Rubin called the mistake “humiliating” in a blog post.
Staying in business is hard when you don’t release products. Two months after the launch of the Essential Phone, Andy Rubin took leave from Essential for “personal reasons,” and at the same time, initial reports of sexual misconduct from his time at Google started to appear in the press. By 2018, more alleged details were revealed in an exposé from The New York Times, saying Google HR concluded the misconduct claims were “credible” and that the incident is what led to Rubin’s resignation from Google and founding of Essential. The NY Times revealed that Rubin was paid over $200 million to leave Google, which lead to outrage and widespread protests at Google.
Essential was also constantly in the press for how poorly the Essential Phone was selling and how the company was going down the tubes. The fire sales started quickly for the Essential Phone, and the $700 device got a price drop to $500 just two months after launch. A month later, the phone was down to $400, and eventually, the device fell to $224. By May 2018, the failing company was put up for sale, but it couldn’t find a buyer. In October 2018, it was forced to lay off 30 percent of its staff. The company landed on our Deathwatch list in 2019.
In its closing blog post, Essential detailed what was left of the Gem phone project and showed off a few features from the now-dead smartphone. Just like with the previous tease, there are a few built-in apps that look like they would work on the super-skinny display, but it’s unclear how the phone would work with any kind of app ecosystem.
Newton Mail, an email app Essential bought one year ago, will be shut down April 30. The Essential Phone’s February security update is the last OS update the device will receive from Essential, though the company was nice enough to leave some code up on GitHub for the Android hacking community to produce further updates.
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