Wednesday, May 31, 2017

More info on Essential Phone and Home

Andy Rubin took the stage last night at Walt Mossberg’s Code Conference to talk more about the Essential Phone and Home devices announced yesterday. Here’s the latest.

Essential Phone

Essential Home

Andy wants customers to be able to run whatever virtual assistant they want on the Home (i.e. Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant).

He goes on to say:

All of these [companies] have ecosystem envy and want to create their own ecosystem. But consumers don’t want just Samsung stuff in their house. They want diversity.

This is a novel idea on the Smart Speaker concept, allowing for maximum compatibility with consumer devices. That said, I seriously doubt Google and Apple would go for it. Google makes its money on search and user data, and I don’t think they can afford to not have full control over that experience. Apple is renowned for being secretive, isolated, and integrated with their software and hardware. Don’t hold your breath for Siri on anything without an Apple logo. Amazon has already licensed out the Alexa voice service, so it seems like less of an issue there.

He also mentions that the new Ambient OS run by the Home will follow a similar development and deployment process as Android. This has led to fragmentation as new versions of Android become available, it is up to the phone manufacturers to implement them, which they have historically been slow to do. Andy says they have a plan to prevent this with Ambient.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Thoughts on new Essential Phone and Home products

As hinted at last week, Andy Rubin’s new startup (Essential) has announced [Essential Phone](https://www.essential.com/# introduction) and [Essential Home](https://www.essential.com/home# introduction) (Amazon Echo/Google Home competitor).

Essential Phone: In a Nutshell

  • Runs Android
  • Body is made of titanium, with a ceramic back.
  • Colors: Black Moon, Stellar Grey, Pure White, and Ocean Depths
  • 128GB of Storage, 4GB of RAM
  • Full Display (takes up most of the front of the phone).
  • Cameras
    • Rear: 13 megapixels, True monochrome mode, 4K video
    • Front: 8 megapixels, 4K video
  • USB-C port for charging and audio (phone comes with a USB-C to headphone jack adapter).
  • No headphone jack.
  • Accessories snap on to the rear corner of the phone via magnetic pogo pins.
    • The first of these accessories is a 360 degree camera ($50 with the phone or $199 by itself).
    • Another accessory announced is a docking station the phone simply rests on to charge.
  • Price: $699 (US only)

The Essential Phone looks pretty, and definitely has a gorgeous display, which is on par with what we’ll see with the upcoming iPhone 8 (latest mock up based on leaks below). The use of titanium and ceramic is really cool, given how strong these materials are. It has been rumored that Apple is testing out ceramic for the iPhone, and they released their first product with ceramic last year (Apple Watch Edition).

Latest mockup of iPhone 8 based on leaks.

128GB of storage should be good for most people, but 4GB of RAM in an Android phone is a little measly.

I’m wondering how well accessories will hold to the magnetic back, or how easily they can be knocked off the phone. Essential’s website says this about it:

Don’t you hate it when you have to buy new dongles, chargers, and accessories every time your phone is upgraded? We do too. So we decided to make this a thing of the past. The magnetic connector with wireless data transfer keeps your phone cord-free, future-proof, and always up-to-date.

I have a couple issues with this. First, Essential provides a USB-C to headphone jack dongle in the box. Sure, you don’t have to buy it separately, but they should own their design choice for not including a headphone jack in the phone instead of being hypocritical for embracing a natural progression of the market (see iPhone 7 and Galaxy S8).

Second, the thought of the magnetic connector keeping your phone future-proof and up-to-date is just BS. It echoes back to the reign of PCs, when eMachine computers would come with those horrid stickers proclaiming “This computer is never obsolete”. You will still have to replace your phone every 1-2 years to get the latest and greatest, not simply snap on accessories for the foreseeable future.


eMachines’s laughable “never obsolete” sticker.

That said, any competition is good for the industry and consumers. Fresh ideas are always welcome and it is clear Andy Rubin has a vision for Essential.

You can reserve an Essential Phone today, but there’s currently no delivery date specified.

Essential Home

Essential Home: In a Nutshell

  • Runs a new OS named Ambient
  • Round touchscreen
  • Covers the basics like: playin music, setting timers, answering questions, and home automation control
  • Proactively alerts you for calendar meetings or events

I’m loving the competition that is heating up in this market. Amazon is the leader by far, but Apple is rumored to be announcing a Siri Smart Speaker at WWDC next week, and Google Home is going to be receiving major updates soon.

Essential Home looks pretty cool. It has a touchscreen like the newly announced Amazon Echo Show. Unlike the Show, however, Essential Home does not appear to have a built-in camera for video calling. I like the first looks we’ve seen of the interface, but more information is needed to really get an idea of how Essential will position itself in this market. They can definitely make a larger impact here than with the Phone.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

'Something big' coming May 30th from startup founded by Android co-founder Andy Rubin

Andy Rubin is one of the co-founders of the Android Operating System, which was purchased by Google in 2005. Back in October 2014, Andy left Google to pursue a new startup we have come to know as Essential.

This past March, Andy tweeted out the following teaser.

Today, the @essential account tweeted this.

Followed by…

The above image has been enhanced by others in an attempt to identify the top device sticking out the phone. Here’s one representation.

Augmented Reality and enhanced cameras are something the industry is pushing towards very rapidly, and the device sticking out of the phone definitely looks like it has something to do with a camera.

Not too much else is known about Essential or this new phone they are teasing, other than Eric Schmidt (Executive Chairman, Alphabet) essentially1 confirming it will run Android (see below). We also know it will have a rounded screen and small bezels, based on the first tweet above. This is definitely on par with the latest design trend (Samsung Galaxy S8 and the rumored iPhone 8).

It will be interesting to see if Essential will be able to differentiate themselves beyond the rounded-rectangle, glass, and aluminum standard that is the smartphone world.

One thing’s for sure, though. I fully support the ‘war on bezels’, and 2017 is shaping up to be the year we make substantial progress.


  1. Pun totally intended. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

CNET: Voice call functionality coming to Echo devices and Alexa app today

Hot on the heels of Amazon’s Echo Show announcement, CNET has confirmed Amazon will be introducing voice calling features for existing Alexa users today.

Existing Echo devices and the Alexa app will be updated to receive this functionality, which has the opportunity to truly change the dynamic in which these smart speakers are used.

This is truly an ‘Amazon’ way to do this, since their Fire Phone was a flop. I expect Apple’s ‘Siri Speaker’ to handle calls as well, but in a much different way. Either way, taking calls from the comfort of the couch without reaching for your phone will be nice.

Amazon introduces Echo Show smart speaker with touchscreen for $229 →

After multiple leaks this past Friday, May 5, and a Wall Street Journal report, Amazon introduced the Echo Show this morning. You can buy one for $229 or two for $358 (saving $100) for a June delivery. This is a very compelling move by Amazon and something Apple would never do (highlights the stark contrast between the two). I own an Echo Dot to mostly control our smart lights, and it is a pretty amazing little device. I’m curious what it would be like with a touchscreen. The Echo Show looks promising, as the features below highlight. I don’t care much for the design, though, with its sharp edges and blockiness in an age of sleek and soft corners.

Apple is also rumored to be working on a Siri-enabled smart speaker themselves, to be announced as early as June.

Pricing and Availability

$229 or two for $358 (save $100)
Colors: White, Black
Releases June 28, 2017

Features

  • Echo Show brings you everything you love about Alexa, and now she can show you things. Watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, and more. All hands-free—just ask.
  • Introducing a new way to be together. Talk to family and friends who have an Echo or the Alexa App.
  • See lyrics on-screen with Amazon Music. Just ask to play a song, artist or genre, and stream over Wi-Fi. Also, stream music on Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and more.
  • Powerful room-filling speakers with Dolby processing for crisp vocals and extended bass response.
  • Ask Alexa to show you the front door or monitor the baby’s room with compatible cameras from Ring and Arlo. Turn on lights, control thermostats and more with WeMo, Philips Hue, ecobee, and other compatible smart home devices.
  • With eight microphones, beam-forming technology, and noise cancellation, Echo Show hears you from any direction—even while music is playing

Update 5/9 at 4:27pm: added intro video from Amazon.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Amazon's touchscreen Echo device leaks

After a low resolution image was reported by tech news outlets earlier today, notorious device leaker Evan Blass has released a high resolution image of a purported Amazon Echo device with a touchscreen.

Amazon has been rumored to be working on such a device for a while. I’m not sure I see the entire benefit of having a touchscreen on a communal device, unless you’re already standing/walking, but it will be interesting to see what features Amazon brings forward.