Back in 2017, when Android cofounder Andy Rubin first launched the Essential Phone, it took the media by storm. As a new kid on the block, the Essential Phone created tremendous hype, and people were talking about it almost everywhere. They even caught the eyes of tech giants such as Amazon and Tencent, who invested as much as $300 million in the brand. Followed by this, Essential’s valuation crossed the billion-dollar mark without even selling a single device. Fast forward to 2022, Essential PH-1, along with the brand, has gone extinct. The brand that was hyped by so many people is dead in the water. So what really happened to Essential?
Let’s take a train down memory lane. Essential started their journey with their truly luxurious Essential PH-1 smartphone with an entirely new take on the “bezel-less” design. Bezel-less was gradually becoming a thing with devices such as Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and its edge-to-edge display. Followed by this, Essennantial took it to the next level by completely cutting off the top bezel and putting a teardrop notch in there. This, combined with the stock android experience and premium build quality, made the phone appear in the spotlight. People went bonkers to get their hands on one of these as it received solid reviews at launch, adding more to the hype. But sadly, the company shipped as few as 90,000 units in the first 6 months, and now it’s all gone.
What Went Wrong?
Essential had the money, the vision, and the hype. Then what went wrong?
Regardless of the hype and Andy Rubin’s goodwill, Essential was still a startup. The smartphone industry was already a mature one, where top dogs such as Apple, Samsung, and OnePlus competed. And against their manufacturing expertise, it seemed like Essential had a hard time holding its ground. At least what the poor sales volume suggests.
Essential’s focus on modularity, although seemed cool, lacked versatility. Take their 360 camera attachment, for example. Having priced at $200, this module was specifically made for the PH-1. People are more into gadgets and accessories that can be used with a wide range of devices. Which didn’t go well with Andy Rubin’s approach. On top of that, the device itself had several issues relating to the operating system. People were experiencing issues regarding the touch sensitivity, slow fingerprint reader, and call drops left and right. PH-1 also had significantly low camera quality compared to the devices it competed with. Especially in low-light conditions, the camera performed badly.
Naturally, Essential was getting bad reviews as angry customers demanded solutions. As opposed to larger companies, they were pretty slow in responding to these problems. Keep in mind that people paid 700 dollars of a premium price for this phone back then. Followed by this, each and every tech reviewer on several different platforms review-bombed the Essential PH-1. The smartphone that was once hyped and anticipated by so many people got buried beneath bad reviews. As if that was not enough, there were sexual allegations against Andy Rubin, which added more spice to the downfall of Essential.
Slowly but surely, Essential did several attempts to revive the brand. First and foremost, they had released three new color variants of the phone. Stellar Gray, Copper Black, and the most popular one, Ocean Depths. They also ensured several years of updates to fix the issues that we mentioned earlier. They were so desperate to make a comeback that they reduced the pricing of PH-1 from $700 to $500, $400, and $350, gradually. While these attempts did boost sales, companies like these hardly get a second chance after the first impression.
Failing to revive the PH-1, Andy and his team teased another unique-looking smartphone, titled “Project Gem.” The form factor of this phone resembled that of a TV remote and was supposed to be controlled mostly via voice commands. Unlike the PH-1, Project Gem didn’t even get to see the light of day. Besides that, Essential also talked about unveiling smart home technologies and operating systems such as the Ambient OS. Ambient OS was supposed to “activate” your home by understanding the layout, identifying various smart devices within it, and acting accordingly whenever needed. Ultimately, that never materialized as well. As they were already sinking, Andy acquired yet another sinking startup, Cloud Magic, in hopes of reviving Newton Mail. Newton Mail was a subscription-based mailing service that had plenty of amazing features such as un-sending a sent mail and emailing individuals on your behalf. Andy hoped to integrate this into the PH-1, which ultimately, didn’t go as expected.
With one poorly sold smartphone, a canceled follow-up product, and numerous other “promised tech innovations,” Andy Rubin finally decided to shut down Essential. Although they intended to push beyond their initial failure, the lack of money, investor interest, and fan base hit them pretty hard.
Essential did have the vision and the guts to work on unique and innovative ideas. Truth be told, they were quite advanced with their approaches, at least from the industry standard. If only they had the support and the funding, their vision could have come into reality.Although Essential is dead, there might still be some attempts to revive it. According to the Tech Advisor, Carl Pei’s “Nothing” has taken ownership of the brand behind the Essential Phone. Now whether we will get to see another “unique smartphone” remains a complete mystery. And this is the story of Essential and what went down with it.