On the heels of announcing what possibly could be the mother of all Android phones, Andy Rubin (the father of Android) gave us further insight into Essential: his company that features a brand new phone, new home assistant, and new OS.
Speaking at the Code Conference on Tuesday evening, Rubin revealed how Essential aims to help solve the interoperability issues between consumer tech devices—as well as how to aid customers to escape the islands of branded ecosystems. But first, he provided some more details about the Essential Phone (which, by the way, is just called “Phone,” not Essential Phone).
First, while the phone has a much larger display at 5.71-inches, the phone, itself, is not that big. The physical phone is only about 5.5-inches high, 2.8-inches wide, and 0.31-inches thick. And it weighs less than 6.5 ounces. Comparatively, the iPhone 7 Plus with a smaller 5.5-inch display comes in at 6.23-inches high, 3.07-inches wide, and 0.29-inches thick. So the Essential phone has a screen larger than iPhone 7 Plus but is built into a form factor that’s closer in size to the smaller iPhone 7. The reason for this is the removal of the larger bezels at the top and bottom of the phone (usually where buttons sit), and an edge-to-edge display that makes full use of that phone real estate.
Rubin also addressed what looked to be an odd placement for the front facing camera. He stated there were a few reasons for that dead-center placement. One was to better deal with Android notifications—which start from the edges and build inwards—so users wouldn’t lose that screen space. Another reason was that the camera wouldn’t interfere with the screen when you watch a movie (which is in a 16:9 aspect ratio). One of the big areas Rubin touched on during the talk was on the ceramic back. It seemed a bit questionable that a phone made of such extremely solid materials such as titanium and Gorilla Glass 5 would sport a ceramic back. But Rubin pointed out that ceramic is RF transparent, which is important for a couple of reasons.
For one, it means they can hide the antenna bands beneath the surface of the phone—so you don’t have any of those unsightly lines running around your device. But RF transmission also has a lot to do with the magnetic connector to the right of the phone. Behind it is a 60GHz chip that provides a connection power and speeds similar to USB 3.0 at 10Gbps. That means your phone will charge faster, accessories that connect to it will run more smoothly (especially accessories that take video), and data transfers to and from your phone through that connector will be extremely fast. So ceramic was necessary to ensure it provided a smooth experience for users when using that magnetic connector—a connector that seems to be a major feature of this phone.
Rubin repeated how important it was for Essential to be a very “pro-consumer” company. And one of the ways they do that is to ensure that the money people spend on their accessories doesn’t become useless if the phone were ever to get a physical update in the future. Rubin points out that even he decided to change the form factor of the phone in some way, that connector would still allow users to bring their accessories with them—and not have to shell out a lot of money for all new dongles, adapters, or parts. That’s pretty damn awesome and should make consumers much more likely to buy accessories. But that pro-consumer stance doesn’t stop there.
Rubin also pointed out how he’s fighting as much as he can to ensure your Essential phone doesn’t come with carrier logos or the always-present problem of bloatware—the practice of overloading your Android phone with a lot of unnecessary apps (a common issue on Android devices). But maybe most importantly, this pro-consumer stance aims to end the idea of mono-branded tech ecosystems in the home.
The big problem, he states, is an interoperability and integration issue. A device can’t merely support ten devices; it needs to support 100,000 devices. And he thinks that the companies who aim to make devices that only work with each other will ultimately fail. That’s because consumers don’t have—nor do they want—a home with devices all from one company. Some people may love their Apple iPhone and Mac, but want a Samsung TV and an LG dishwasher. But these devices don’t inherently talk to one another. And that’s where Rubin and Essential see the biggest opportunity.
With Essential and the Ambient OS featured on the Essential Home device (which, like the phone, is just called: Home), Rubin looks to build bridges between all of these devices. And that to have a device that could speak to all these different protocols made by all these branded ecosystems—in a secure and private way—a new OS had to be designed. So, Rubin stated that Ambient OS and aspects of the Essential phone (like the magnetic connector) would be open sourced—so everyone can design for them. And even though he announced that Essential Phone and Home would have a dedicated assistant (which he thinks will solve lots of problems), he doesn’t believe that buying Essential means you should have to switch assistants or be forced to use something different. So he’s offering to work with the big tech companies, so you can have Google Assistant, Alexa, Siri, and more on your Essential devices (we’ll have to wait and see if that happens).
I’m a big believer in this way of thinking. So much so that in my time at Apple, I created a workshop, and even an app, that helped people all over the world understand how different types of devices across various platforms work together to create one, connected experience for the user. So hearing this from someone as established as Rubin excites the heck out of me (that’s right, I said heck)!
Rubin finished off the talk by stating that the phone would ship around one month from now (or sooner)—but that there was currently no price or release date for the Home device. However, Rubin assured the audience that these two devices would not be the only thing Essential makes—as they have a future roadmap of devices and a desire to go big with this idea. Time will tell. But I, for one, am very excited at what the future holds for Essentials, and for tech consumers.