Source: Essential Phone Website
The Smartphone market today is monopolised by two big brands – Apple and Samsung, who seem to be stagnating in smart phone innovation. The much-hyped iPhone 7 did not offer anything more interesting than a missing headphone jack while Samsung’s newest offerings too, don’t go beyond adding a few extra milli-inches to the screen size. No matter which way you look at it, these companies seem to be profiting more from the hype and good PR than from any actual leaps in mobile technology. However, with Andy Rubin’s soon to be launched Essential we might just be stepping into a new era of mobile devices.
Who is Andy Rubin?
Andy Rubin, the co-founder of the Android operating system, is one of the forefathers of the modern smartphone. He began his career in 1989 with Apple – where he was first given his nickname – Android. After leaving Apple and launching a couple of startups that were eventually acquired by Microsoft, he launched his own mobile Operating System (OS) company – Android Inc. Google acquired Android (the person and the OS) and the rest, as we all know, is history. Google and Rubin turned Android into the most popular mobile OS on the planet.
However, by 2014, Andy Rubin became quite disillusioned with the Smartphone industry and left Google to start his own bakery. While this might seem like quite a leap, you will be gladdened to know that Rubin could not stay away from tech for too long. He started his own hardware startup incubator and from within that emerged the Essential.
What makes Essential different from everyone else?
Essential stems from Andy Rubin’s disillusionment with the smartphone era and is his answer to help society move away from phone addiction. For example, you may have noticed that people are too busy snapping food photos instead of enjoying a meal. Or, they may be “checking in” to social media while traveling, instead of fully taking in new experiences. Smartphones are turning us into technology slaves, with most of us switching off from life around us to absorb ourselves into the device.
Rubin aims to change all of that with Essential. He wants to create a device where the phone becomes a virtual version of the user. You can have dinner, enjoy life and live in the moment, while your phone does the virtual work on your behalf, without you even touching it. This could solve part of the addiction problem, and let people go back to the olden days – when everyone lived more carefree lives without the always-on Internet.
What innovations have been planned for Essential?
Some of the core changes to Essential’s design include:
- Attachable Intelligent Accessories
The first version of Essential comes with two magnetic pins at the back to which you can attach Essential or third party manufactured accessories. Examples of these accessories include a 360-degree video camera and an inductive charging dock. Another exciting accessory planned is a gadget that can automatically load new audio from your phone to your car’s stereo while it is being charged. Rubin also mentions the world’s smallest 3d laser scanner, similar to the ones used in self-driving cars to measure distances between objects. Most of these accessories are still in the prototype stage though, and only the 360-degree camera has been released.
- Intelligent Digital Assistant
You may find Siri and Alexa to be quite cool, but Rubin thinks they are “yesterday’s ideas” He wants to develop more sophisticated Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can automatically handle user needs. For example, Essential’s phone AI may sort through your phone notifications to highlight relevant ones based on the time of the day. Alternatively, it may automatically offer you six response choices to a text message and learn from your preferences until it can answer your text for you. This may seem unnerving until you get rear-ended by someone messaging on their phone. Think of all the distracted driving that could be avoided if phones would automatically do the texting for you!
- Minimalistic and durable design
While other Smartphone companies earn money by getting you to ditch (or damage) your phone quickly, Rubin wants you to hold on to your Essential model for long. He uses titanium in the body design, (think Iron Man suit) making the Essential far stronger than the Aluminium body phones of today. The design is minimalist regarding both hardware and software. There are no pre-installed apps (like the ones on your Samsung Phone that keep updating in the background, eating up your data) – and the phone ships with stock Android making it faster to operate and easier to update.
- Future-proof accessories
Don’t you hate buying new dongles, chargers, and accessories every time you upgrade your device? The Essential design works around this problem by shipping with a magnetic connector and a wireless data transfer mechanism. The aim of these features is to keep the phone cord-free, future-proof and always up-to-date.
When can I get my hands on Essential today?
The Essential has only just been launched and currently ships to the US only. It is also fairly pricey at $700USD. Moreover, lots of the promised innovation is missing from the first version. The current model is quite similar to any other phone on the market and does not offer anything new (other than the 360- degree camera). It even has a few key features missing – like a biometric security scanner and water-resistance.
Essential’s business model revolves around getting you to buy the phone first and eventually upgrade to the intelligent software and other accessories as they gradually roll out. I guess, it makes sense to them from a financial perspective, but perhaps it is better for us to wait and watch out. It is still some time away from being launched in Australia, giving us plenty of time to review the promised innovation (if and when it is delivered) and then make the purchase! I, for one, would sure love to have a phone that can auto-text my boss (and check in at the local clinic) every time I take a sickie off from work though!