May 2017 was a month that gave us one of those vibrant moments that a new company was born with the illusion of measuring itself before the biggest firms of the moment in a segment as complicated, complex and demanding as it is on the telephone. And I did it with Andy Rubin, one of Android's parents, at the head.
With this, he had won, from the initial minute, one of the factors against which thousands of companies have to deal with and deserve them at the time of taking their first steps: exposure to a large public. So much so that Rubin's first act as brand ambassador was the same day of the announcement in an interview within the framework of the annual media event Recode led by the well-known journalist Walter Mossberg. It served to show its original product, a telephone, but also for much more: it was a whole declaration of intent that will never be fulfilled.
The company was Essential and last week, less than three years after that time, announced the cessation of its operations.
One phone and two promises
The terminal with which the firm wanted to be known as a manufacturer of smart products was a smartphone. The Essential Phone. Simple, plain, concise and, in a way, innovative. Among its main points of attraction had a large screen that took advantage of the front surface, a notch before Apple popularized it massively with the iPhone X at the end of the same year, construction materials such as titanium and a connection system to be able to attach accessories to it and thus extend its possibilities as required by the moment.
It was very striking. As much as for Rubin to consider him a worthy rival of the iPhone and, throughout the almost sixty minutes of the interview, he alluded to Cupertino's technology several times. We told it in this medium in an article whose title did not take long to prove successful: "Welcome to the next mobile phone failure: Essential Phone".
But despite his compendium of good ideas on paper, the underlying problem was much greater. The idea that the manager sold at the time was to create a whole ecosystem of terminals that broke the established norms with Home at the head, a product for the home that will be compatible with iOS, Android or any other system or protocol that may exist. A hub looking similar to the later Echo Dot running inside Ambient OS, a completely new operating system.
"Users do not want products from a single company in their room. Everyone who is pursuing that strategy will fail."
A telephone, a home-centered terminal and a new operating system. If a large company finds it difficult to create an ecosystem of products with which its potential public feels identified, which manages to transfer and break preconceived schemes (for sample, Google), it is not necessary to put too much imagination to work for Understand the problem that Essential faced.
In relation to that Interoperability of Home and Ambient OS with other competing products, Mossberg asked Rubin in the aforementioned event what would happen if, for example, Apple "was not willing" to allow such access. "I will try," explained the interviewee. "I think I have to lead the way because the premise is that users do not want products from a single company in their room. Everyone who is pursuing that strategy will fail, because they are not meeting the needs of customers. I am creating a solution that satisfies the needs of customers. If they don't want to do it (join the proposal, Apple and the rest of the companies), it depends on them. "
"With Ambient OS, your home is the computer," you can read today on the brand's blog. "Ambient OS knows the physical design of your home, the people who live in it, the relevant services for both your home and the people inside it and the devices."
Neither the Essential Home nor Ambient OS finally came to market.
Add to phone; new promises
The reception of the Essential Phone, baptized as PH-1, proved to be certainly lukewarm in an industry that was not so open to receiving a new player, despite the possible benefits it could offer, as Rubin thought. To this we must add that the reviews and analysis of the terminal indicated a somewhat improved camera that was polished throughout the successive updates of the device software, which the firm has continued to send until the last day of Ferbero.
However, a camera that was somewhat lower than expected is no reason to sink a terminal. The reasons must be sought in another basket. What? The one of the distribution.
At a time when the online sales segment is more than settled in the developed society, Rubin considered it enough to use his website as an exclusive marketing channel (adding the Sprint operator later) of the Essential Phone. But the problems crowded.
To a marketing that shone by its almost nonexistence was added the problem of the United States, a market dominated in a very special way by Apple in the hardware segment and, historically, also by the operators when acquiring the terminals. The union with Sprint, the smallest number of subscribers of the 'Big Four' of the local market did not seem to help much to raise some sales that were repeatedly estimated as disastrous.
The formula is further complicated if we add the price factor, which was then $ 699. A smartphone with half-cooking aspects, without brand confidence to encourage the purchase of the potential customer and located from the outset in the high-end segment, where only the most consolidated technologies dare to put prices of 700 dollars onwards.
Price, distribution and over-skepticism were key to the failure of the Essential Phone
All right, of course, they weren't. Just a year after the launch of the Essential Phone was announced, the technology abandoned the development of a second version, which confirmed the symptomatology that was intimated in the previous months. So precarious was the situation that came to speculate that Rubin was exploring a possible sale of the company.
The blood did not reach the river at all, at least and Essential made guts to continue standing. Bloomberg It revealed then that they worked in a second terminal and, to everyone's surprise, this was more risky and bold than the previous one. It was learned then, the next of the company will not be a smartphone to use, but one with a small screen and focused on an interaction that will be carried out by voice in a leading way.
The scandal that precipitated everything
In between all of the above, the founder of Essential had to face a situation that moved him away from the company and that, irremediably, devalued the already precarious image available to the firm.
Rubin was accused in late 2017 of having "inappropriate relationships" with one of his employees subordinates while still working at Google, forcing her to practice oral sex. A year later, an investigation of The New York Times He said that from Google they were not only aware of the fact, but they offered the then executive $ 90 million to accelerate his departure and forget the situation.
Andy Rubin at the presentation of the Essential Phone.
Although Rubin slandered the accusations and assured that there are "wild exaggerations" about the compensation received for leaving the tech giant, it was Google itself who confirmed last year that the payment was made.
Added to this are also the accusations made later by his wife in the divorce process, where he assured that Rubin had made him sign a premarital agreement to avoid sharing with her the profits generated from then on.
The final act
"This company goes for it in the biggest way there is," said optimist Rubin in the interview with Mossberg. Two years later, with the main figure of the company mired in a vorgine that had ruined the prestige and recognition associated with its name, the signature looked like death wound No remedy possible.
In October of last year, however, Essential showed the world its new creation, the terminal that was previously referred to as a device that delved in a very special way in voice commands to reinforce communication between user and machine. A smartphone so strange and peculiar that it raised the skepticism about the success lived with the PH-1 to new heights.
Image of Project GEM smartphones.
Project GEM, which did not give too many explanations at first, completely changed the traditional concept of mobile phone to transform it into a narrow and thin rectangle. With an interface based on cards and with the voice as an omnipresent element to understand the day to day with the device, the proposal reminded of the recent Palm and similar ones.
The certain expectation towards the device did not take long to be truncated: last February 12 Essential communicated its closure and the consequent disappearance of Project GEM. There was no time for more.
"In October, we presented Project GEM, a new mobile experience that our hardware, software and cloud teams have been creating and testing for the past few years," the company statement began, which can be read on its website. "Our vision was to invent a mobile computing paradigm that would be more easily integrated with people's lifestyle needs. Despite our best efforts, we have now taken GEM as far as we can and unfortunately we don't have a clear path to make it reach customers. Given this, we have made the difficult decision to suspend operations and close Essential. "
Several videos of the terminal in operation accompanied the last measures of a requiem that, despite the apparent, had been playing for some time. These show the device and its qualities in different ways in what seem like finished units, with stable software accompanying that colorful and curious piece of metal, radically different from the previous model of the brand. A good last look at what could have been and was not.
"The benefits come with success," Rubin told Mossberg at that event in 2017, when everything seemed simpler and the future is somewhat bright. For Essential, finally, they will never arrive.