Essential, the phone company started by alleged sexual harrasser and Android creator Andy Rubin, has died. The writing has been on the wall for Essential since its first device, the Essential Phone, launched with poor specs, a weak overall user experience, and a high price tag. Sales never reached expectations and the company survived several rounds of layoffs, but never brought a follow-up product to market. The closest we got was Project GEM, which resembles a half-width cell phone built to no clear purpose. Supposedly, GEM was a device that would function mostly by voice assistant, which seems like the kind of idea that makes it halfway out of the lab before someone comes to their senses and kills it.
That’s not my snark — it’s Rubin’s assessment of the situation, which which reads:
Our vision was to invent a mobile computing paradigm that more seamlessly integrated with people’s lifestyle needs. Despite our best efforts, we’ve now taken Gem as far as we can and regrettably have no clear path to deliver it to customers. Given this, we have made the difficult decision to cease operations and shutdown Essential.
Rubin notes that the last software update for the Essential PH-1 shipped on February 3, with no more updates provided. Developers who want to keep working on the device can check Github, where prebuilt vendor images and “everything else needed to keep hacking on PH-1” will be hosted. Newton Mail customers will have access to that service through April 2020 before it shuts off.
It’s not clear how much coverage of Andy Rubin’s behavior at Google hurt Essential as a company, but it surely did him no favors. Rubin was reportedly paid $90M to leave Google after an investigation upheld a sexual assault complaint filed against him. It was neither the first complaint against him nor the first time his personal life made trouble for the company. Some tech publications, such as Android Police, made the decision to refuse all access to Essential devices for testing due to concerns over his behavior.
Hackers and developers might be able to do some work with Essential’s github images to continue providing support for the device, but official support is over, effective immediately. If you had your heart set on yelling at your half-width product to perform simple tasks, you may want to consider having children in lieu of buying GEM.
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