The battle for next-generation phone mindshare just got a new entrant — and it’s Essential.
Android founder Andy Rubin’s Essential Phone is here. In the battle of not-yet-real-but-hopefully-coming-soon phones, Apple’s widely anticipated iPhone 8 has gotten its first new mindshare-rival in a while. Not the Galaxy Note 8 which, by virtue of last year’s Note 7 recall will have more eyeballs — but likely far fewer fire extinguishers — on it than ever, but from an old, familiar face.
Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:
First, the Android phone basics: the Essential Phone costs $699 with top-of-the-line specs and features. As you can see above, it prominently features an edge-to-edge display that one-ups even the Samsung Galaxy S8 by bringing it all the way to the the top of the phone, wrapping around the front-facing selfie camera.
The price point is around what a current generation iPhone goes for. The next-generation iPhone 8 is rumored to up that up-front cost a tad. It’s also rumored to be including a lot of bleeding edge tech, including under-the-glass Touch ID and new sensors.
Essential is a handsome phone, though, and the cut around the front-facing camera doesn’t bother me nearly as much as I thought it would. I’d love to see it with the status bar as well. It might blend almost completely away…
Essential is clearly planning on releasing a very well-made phone: the screen looks promising, it has no annoying logos, and it is built with a combination of titanium and ceramic so it can survive a drop test “without blemish, unlike the aluminum competitor devices.” (Those would be Samsung and Apple, if you’re wondering.)
Apple is no stranger to ceramics or titanium — see Apple Watch Edition Series 2 and old school PowerBook G4 — but iPhone 8 is expected to use metal and glass, likely due to the wireless charging also widely rumored to be launching with the device.
But nice hardware isn’t all that hard to come by on Android phones, so the company is aiming to build an ecosystem of accessories. It starts with a magnetic connector and wireless data transfer. Essential will ship a 360-degree camera that can click in to the top of the phone, and the company will also offer a charging dock.
Modular phones are the nerd holy grail. Being able to eject a part, turn, and with John Woo-style slo mo smoke — insert another module and then fire away (with the camera) is the first fantasy of any sci-fi gadget aficionado.
LG tried and failed at modular phones last year, though, and Google’s Project Ara — complete with fish tank module — never shipped.
Would there be a real market for an iPhone with magnetic lens, extended battery, and speaker modules? Or has the market already decided fussy complexity is best left to the accessory makers?
My guess is that if “modular” simply means better and more convenient accessories, like Smart Connector and Smart Keyboard on iPad, then they’ll work. If they try to turn your phone into Lego, though, they’ll fall flat.
Rather than use the second lens for telephoto or bokeh, it’s using it for a monochrome sensor
That sounds great for low-light but probably won’t provide the fuller range of options needed for the next generation of computational photography, which is where Apple’s racing.
Of course, Dieter nails it:
Even if those ambitions don’t bear out, the Essential Phone itself is exciting on its own. It’s a simple, straightforward Android device that respects the user: it’s powerful, clean, and not entirely beholden to the business whims of the giant companies that currently control the mobile and smart home markets.
The more new ideas and the higher the competitive bar, the better it is for everyone. It’ll be a huge challenge to succeed, given Apple and Samsung’s dominance in the space. If Essential pulls it off, great. If it doesn’t, still great. Because the mere fact that it exists, and Apple and Samsung are waking up to news about it today, will get engineering and marketing neurons firing, and ultimately bring us all better phones tomorrow.
Good luck, Essential.