What do you really need out of a smartphone? Developer Andy Rubin — the creator of Android — has tried to answer that question with a new phone aimed at delivering the basics of a high-end smartphone in a simple package.
The phone, called the Essential, made its debut Tuesday and was created by Rubin's company, which is also called Essential. Rubin decided to found the firm after voicing frustrations about the current gadget landscape, which he described in a blog post as full of unnecessary features and lacking in good choice.
If you read through the material on Essential's site, you come away with three main ideas: Simple is best. Companies shouldn't force people to put anything on their phones. Devices should work with one another.
The phone has an edge-to-edge 5.7-inch display, a titanium body that is supposed to withstand a drop better than an iPhone does and simple styling. The Essential phone boasts a fingerprint reader, as well as a front-facing 8 MP camera, a rear-facing 13 MP camera and a “monochrome” sensor that is supposed to help with lowlight shots. It does not have a headphone jack — although the Verge reported that it will ship with a headphone dongle.
And the phone doesn't carry any branding, which the company said was intended to prevent customers from being “forced to advertise” for it all the time.
Essential is also introducing an interesting system for accessories, based off two small, magnetic pins on the back of the phone. The company uses these as a way to wirelessly charge the phone. The pins also connect the phone to a variety of add-ons, which Essential says can help your phone evolve over time and possibly reduce a need to upgrade. The first accessory introduced is the company's 360-degree camera. It, unlike other mobile 360-degree camera accessories, snaps onto the phone.
The Essential phone introduces a couple of things that are intriguing, particularly the promise of a simple phone that can evolve with you. It's a new take on the “modular” design — the idea that your phone can have interchangeable, swappable parts — that other manufacturers, notably Motorola, have attempted. It's not cheap at $699 but does offer plenty of storage space in every model, at 128 GB. (The iPhone's 128 GB model costs $750). And, if the respect for consumer preferences extends to the company's software, it may carve out a niche among privacy hawks. Users can also transfer data over these magnetic connections.
The ideas are interesting. But will the phone sell? That's a different matter altogether. Essential comes into the equation at a time when Apple and Samsung are dominating the smartphone market — even established companies, such as Google, can't get a foothold. Essential is trying to target a particular market of smartphone users who want a powerful phone with minimal flourish and are willing to shell out some cash on a newcomer.
Rubin's ambitions are big: The company also introduced a home hub called Home, not be confused with the Google Home. Essential promises that its Home will be privacy-conscious and will work with a variety of devices. But details are scant.
Rubin is scheduled to speak at the tech-focused Code Conference on Tuesday evening, where he may give more information about the products his company has to offer — and maybe a further idea of what else in the current gadget world he thinks is essential.