It’s been more than two years, several price cuts, and one mass layoff since Andy Rubin’s Essential burst into the scene with a new kind of phone. Hailed by critics and instantly declared the next big thing, it was the first Android phone with a notch, no headphone jack, a modular magnetic system, and an overinflated sense of purpose.
In no uncertain terms, Essential Phone was a beautiful disaster. Initial figures put sales south of 100,000, the promised charging and audio mods arrived late or not at all, and the AI-powered home hub turned out to be pure vaporware.
But now Rubin expects us to forget all that—along with a series of sexual misconduct allegations that reportedly forced him out of Google back in 2014—and trust in his new smartphone vision. In a thinly veiled tease of the next Essential Phone, Rubin tweeted out a series of pics of what he calls a “new UI for a radically different formfactor (sic).” A few hours later, his company confirmed the images as showing “a new device to reframe your perspective,” claiming that “it’s now in early testing with our team outside the lab.”
Let’s start with the most obvious one: what operating system is it running? Rubin touted the unique UI of the new device, but the two screenshots don’t look like any version of Android I’ve ever seen. So it’s safe to say that it’s a proprietary OS designed for the screen’s a ridiculous ratio. Rubin may have the Android pedigree to stand one, but the last thing we need is a new smartphone OS in 2019.
The only thing Essential Phone was truly better at doing than other Android phones was delivering timely and regular updates, often as fast as Google’s own Pixel phones, even to this day. But assuming Essential Phone 2 runs an in-house OS, what guarantees will we have that it’s safe, secure, and private? After Essential Phone crashed and burned and failed to deliver on its biggest promises, now we’re supposed to believe that Rubin has created a ground-up reimagining of the smartphone experience that is mature enough to challenge Android and iOS? Color me skeptical.
Let’s face it, without Rubin’s involvement, Essential wouldn’t have received nearly as much attention as it did. Maybe we shouldn’t repeat that same mistake this time.
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