This is something we’ve been talking about from way back when Andy Rubin, co-creator of Android, first unveiled his plans to make a smartphone under the banner Essential, the startup that he’s floating for all his hardware dreams. We talked about how tough the smartphone market already was, and how a new player would struggle to find a foothold in an overly aggressive and highly penetrated market. And it looks like that’s exactly what’s happening.
News is out that the Essential Phone will only be available via Sprint in the United States. This is a significant piece of news because Sprint is only the fourth largest carrier in the country. Unless Essential is able to get on the good books of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, it’s not going anywhere fast. We heard about a possible tie-up with Sprint early on, but it looks like Essential is stopping with them for now.
First of all, at a $699 price point, Essential Phone clearly targets the upper end of the smartphone market. That means competing with the likes of iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S and Google Pixel, among other premium devices. That’s a severe limitation to market potential in itself.
The second point is that unless Essential is able to nab more of the top carriers, there’s no way to get that many devices into users’ hands in a short period of time. And if they can’t do that, there’s really no point in going after the smartphone market.
Of note is the fact that Jason Keats, head of product architecture at Essential, had already told Wired that the company was not in a position to mass produce the phone.
So, now, you have a fairly decent product – not revolutionary by any means – that’s only going to be available with one carrier. And it’s not the biggest one, either.
Not a great position to be in, especially in a cut-throat market like smartphones, and in a highly penetrated and mature market like the United States.
We don’t hold out much hope for Essential Phone. Our first big disappointment was the fact that it ran stock Android, and it went downhill from there. Not many consumers are going to buy a seven hundred dollar phone just because it was made by a company started by someone who was famous once upon a time. Some might. Most won’t.
And there’s nothing really that different about the phone that would make it extremely appealing. If they want mods like the 360-degree snap-on camera accessory, all they need to do is go to Lenovo’s Motorola, which has a much wider range of mods to choose from.
As such, Essential Phone has almost no advantage over any other device in the market at that price point, so don’t expect it to flood the U.S. market anytime soon.
On the other hand, the Essential Home smart speaker that runs Ambient OS and does a lot of the AI computing right within the device is the product that the company should be focusing on. That’s a futuristic product that has a distinct advantage over Amazon Echo, Google Home and even the upcoming Harman Kardon Invoke from Microsoft or HomePod from Apple.
Read more about that here.
As far as we can tell, this is the ‘stand-out’ product from Essential, not Essential Phone. And the sooner they bring it to market and start promoting it via all the top retail outlets in the U.S. including online channels, the better for them.