Essential will shut down operations, leaving a slew of Essential Phone users with a final February security update and its Gem phone concept, which it had been working on for some time.
The startup, founded by Android creator Andy Rubin (who had left Google after accusations of sexual misconduct detailed in The New York Times), hoped to take on established companies with a more sustainable option that used modular add-ons to change functionality over years – but reception for the Essential Phone was lukewarm at best.
After discontinuing the phone at the end of 2018, the company teased a new phone in October 2019, called the Gem. It had a ‘radically different’ form factor: a thin, long design half the width of phablets with the length of an average phone – but given its narrow profile, made it look like at TV remote.
But in its press release today, Essential noted that the startup has “no clear path to deliver [the Gem] to customers.” Whether that means issues cropped up in design, production, or even funding is unclear. The effect, unfortunately, is that the company will cease operations and shut down after April 30.
A final look at the Gem so far
As a parting gift, Essential’s closure-announcing blog post includes a slew of professional videos showing off the Gem so far – which seems like a finalized design with apps, services, camera, and voice control all optimized for the tall-yet-narrow format.
The footage shows off how services like Google Maps work in the phone – which is simply using half the normal real estate, something that would conceivably take time to get used to – as well as the single, massive rear ultrawide camera, and extensive push-to-talk voice controls.
The Gem seemed to abandon metal sides for an all-glass body, which rises around the camera (glass bump) and depresses under the fingerprint sensor – all of which seem like an advanced design that typical phones might adopt in the years to come. Ditto for the in-display front-facing camera.
Of course, whether the Gem would actually have appealed to consumers, who have been told that bigger = better for over a decade of smartphone releases, is a question we’ll probably never have answered. Yes, the design is neat – but would it convince buyers to get a device with half the display real estate they’ve become accustomed to? Unless someone else picks up the Gem torch, we’ll never know.