You know, I had high hopes for the Essential Phone when I tried it out in August 2017:
We’re on the mezzanine, and [Andy Rubin, creator] has the phone in his hand. There’s no logo on it, or indeed any branding whatsoever. It’s made from titanium, which is lighter and stronger than the aluminium most devices are made from – though the phone itself is heavier overall than, for example, the iPhone 7. Titanium shouldn’t bend as much on impact, meaning fewer screen breaks.
It has a ceramic back-casing with a dual-lens camera that doesn’t protrude, so the device can lie flat on its back when resting on a table. There’s an almost-edge-to-edge screen, and, like Google’s Pixel phone, a nifty fingerprint reader on the back to unlock it quickly.
But what makes the Essential Phone different are the two small circular connectors found on its rear. These can be used to snap-on a range of different accessories. The first, a 360-camera, is being offered at a discount when you buy the phone (though they didn’t give me a proper chance to try it out, so I can’t vouch for how good it is).
It was a promising concept, but one that had a fatal flaw. Its stand-out features (those accessories) required critical mass to make any kind of sense. And the company had no real plan to tell anyone about it:
[Rubin] says there won’t be a big event where “one person gets on stage and does a ‘ta-da!’”. You also won’t be seeing a huge advertising campaign, a Super Bowl ad, or anything even close to the kind of effort Samsung has gone to in order to get its devices into consumers’ hands – and that’s a company that has been a known brand for more than 50 years.
After I wrote that piece it also became clear that the software on the device, particularly the camera, was dismally unstable. Who wants a camera that may or may not have just taken a picture?
Earlier this year, the NYT reported that Mr Rubin was the recipient of a $90m leaving present from Google – despite “credible” complaints about sexual misconduct around women.
Damaging as they were, I don’t think the revelations made much difference when it came to the Essential Phone’s fate. On Friday, Android news blog DroidLife noticed that it was basically impossible to buy the device online, including on Essential’s own website:
The Essential Phone switched over to “Out of Stock” on the Essential Shop last week in all colors after not much of a discount (not like this one) during the height of the holiday shopping season. It’s now mostly gone at Amazon too, outside of some resellers trying to get rid of remaining devices, with no Prime shipping available in the last couple of color options. Best Buy removed all listings of the unlocked model and now shows it as “no longer available” if you do find a legacy link to it. That change happened sometime around December 14. The only version sold by Best Buy is the Sprint model. And speaking of the Sprint model, Sprint’s site seems to think they have it, but the page is broken for me and just spins as it tries to figure out how much to sell the phone for.
It later updated its piece to include this statement from Essential, confirming that the phone was, indeed, a gonner. But fear not, Essential fans (anyone?), there’s a new product on the way:
We are sold out of Essential Phone on essential.com and won’t be adding any new inventory. We are now hard at work on our next mobile product and will continue to sell accessories and provide speedy software updates and customer support to our existing community.