Essential Products: Andy Rubin's fledgling startup aims to build better devices than either Apple or Google

Essential Products, a startup founded by Android creator Andy Rubin, is turning heads with the launch of its Essential Phone and Essential Home devices. But what is Essential Products? How is it different from any number of other startups and smartphone makers out in the wild?

The company website describes itself as, “An entirely new type of company, creating solutions for the way people live in the 21st century.” This is Rubin’s belief and the driving principle behind the company, or so he says.

What is Essential Products?

In a blog post, Rubin explains that he got the idea while discussing the increasingly fragmented ecosystems that are flooding our world. As he put it, he was tired of looking at an “increasing sea of products that didn’t work with one another…”

As with Steve Jobs, Rubin decided that he wanted to build an ecosystem that he would want to use. He wanted an ecosystem that was simple, clutter-free, something that just worked. The idea was not only to shun closed ecosystems — Rubin called them divisive and outdated — but also to ensure that the company’s products remained up-to-date regardless.

Apple Steve Jobs Hoarding Tech2 720 Reuters

Google’s vision for Android is very similar to Rubin’s. If Google I/O 2017 is any indication, Google intends for all your smart devices to work on its platforms. The search giant, however, appears to have little to no control over how Android devices are updated. By contrast, Apple’s devices are usually up-to-date and there is no fragmentation. On the other hand, Apple has a death grip on its ecosystem and doesn’t play well with outsiders.

Recode’s Walt Mossberg put this question to Rubin at the Code conference currently running in California. Mossberg pointed out that fragmentation was pervasive in Android and that only 30 percent of Android devices actually ran the latest software. Rubin didn’t have a direct answer to that, only saying, “I think we have a solution for that. I think we have a better plan,” reports Recode.

Image Credit: Essential

Image Credit: Essential

From what we’ve seen, it does seem like Essential Products’ approach to devices will follow a mix of Apple’s and Google’s methods. It looks like the company will build finely crafted products, as Apple does, but on a platform that’s open. Since the products are controlled, fragmentation shouldn’t be an issue. Since the ecosystem is open, adaptability and flexibility will be inherent to the model.

Essential will take on Apple, but not directly

Wired’s David Pierce, who interviewed Rubin, states that Rubin “wants to make Essential the first great gadget maker since Apple.” Rubin’s Essential Phone bears that out.

We’ve explained the device in more detail here, but the takeaway is that this $749 device is meticulously crafted from materials seen in few devices. The frame of the phone is made from Titanium, for instance, a material that, as Wired points out, even Apple failed to tame.

Essential Home (3)

Rubin believes that the manufacturers of today suffer from “ecosystem envy” and that each wants to develop its own ecosystem. His point that people don’t actually want to be tied to a particular ecosystem is a very valid one. After all, isn’t it more freeing to pick a device or gadget without worrying about compatibility? Why should you worry about compatibility with your TV or home lighting system, for example? Why can’t you just purchase something because you like it? Essential Home epitomises that philosophy. It might just be the first smart home hub that is compatible with the most popular Home ecosystems around.

And that’s the key to Essential Products. The devices are meant to be personal and compatible with everything around you. The fact that these devices are also meant to be finely crafted is almost incidental to the aforementioned goals, but it’s a crucial factor that makes Essential’s devices special.

Unique by design

In the course of the interview with Wired, Rubin reveals that he does not intend to compete with the likes of Apple in terms of sheer volume. Android’s creator helped democratise the smartphone, but he hates the fact that smartphones have become so generic, uninspired. With Essential Products, his aim wonderful, well-crafted products, but in limited quantities.

Image Credit: Essential

Image Credit: Essential

For instance, the titanium frame of the device isn’t easy to manufacture at scale, which is also likely to be the reason why Apple dropped the idea. With the Essential Phone, scale isn’t a criteria, so the company could afford to make such a product.

Rubin also insists that his products won’t go out of date within a year. He says that they will “evolve” with you.

Essential Products has some very ambitious goals, some might call them too ambitious. But in principle, these goals aren’t that different from Steve Jobs vision for the iPhone or the Mac, and look where that got him.

Is Essential Products truly the next Apple? Only time will tell.

Updated Date: Jun 01, 2017 09:32 AM