Andy Rubin, former Google employee and creator of the Android operating system, unveiled two new products from his new company: a high-end smartphone and a stand-alone virtual assistant. The “Essential Phone” and “Essential Home” are intended to compete with his former employer’s products (Pixel, Google Home), as well as those from Samsung and Apple.
The Essential smartphone is available for pre-order now (US only) and costs $699. It comes with an add-on, 360-degree camera for $50 more. It’s positioned as a premium device, with an edge-to-edge screen and high-end processor. It’s also made from titanium and is supposed to be more durable than other Android devices or the iPhone, according to its PR.
The Essential Home — I wonder if Google will come after Rubin for using the same name — is close in size to the Amazon Echo Dot but more elegant. Pricing for the virtual assistant hasn’t yet been disclosed. However, Google Home is $129, and Amazon Echo is available for $179. It will thus be challenging to charge much more than $200 without providing clearly superior capabilities.
Unlike the phone, the Essential Home doesn’t run on Android but rather on a new operating system dubbed Ambient OS. Like comparable devices, it’s speech-enabled and offers developers an open SDK. It’s also designed to integrate with other smart devices. According to the website, “Ambient OS automatically introduces itself to new and existing devices and helps set them up in no time.”
In a blog post, Rubin explains that frustration with Android and some personal guilt motivated him to start the new company:
For all the good Android has done to help bring technology to nearly everyone it has also helped create this weird new world where people are forced to fight with the very technology that was supposed to simplify their lives. Was this what we had intended? Was this the best we could do?
I left that night reflecting deeply on what was great and what was frustrating with the current state of technology today. After another long talk with my friend we decided that I needed to start a new kind of company using 21st century methods to build products for the way people want to live in the 21st century.
When these devices become available, we’ll see whether they live up to their promises and whether they can compete in an already crowded market.