Essential launched its first Android phone in 2017, and that remains the only device it has released more than two years later. However, Andy Rubin’s smartphone startup might be on the verge of releasing a second, much stranger phone. The so-called “Project GEM” debuted on Twitter yesterday with an extremely unusual form factor. It’s about half as wide as most phones, looking more like a fancy remote control than a phone.
With 2017’s Essential Phone, the company focused on a forward-looking but recognizable design. That phone had a display notch when that was still a very new idea, and the chassis was titanium and ceramic. The Essential Phone didn’t garner many positive reviews thanks to performance issues and a high price tag.
Essential has gone through several rounds of layoffs since that launch, but it has still managed to keep the Essential Phone up-to-date. In fact, it usually released system updates for that phone on the same day as Google’s Pixel phones. Essential can’t lean on that forever, though. It’s not just going to throw some new hardware in the Essential Phone chassis and call it a day, though.
On Twitter, founder and CEO Andy Rubin revealed Project GEM, noting that it has a new UI for a “radically different” form factor. The device is so narrow that traditional apps probably won’t render correctly. One of the photos shows a mapping application, but it’s not Google Maps. Another shows four app widgets including Uber and a calendar aligned vertically on the narrow display. There’s a small hole-punch camera on the front and a single protruding camera module on the rear. GEM also has a “colorshift” material on the back, several examples of which are shown in Rubin’s tweets.
New UI for radically different formfactor pic.twitter.com/Es8hFrTuxx
— Andy Rubin (@Arubin) October 8, 2019
It’s unclear how the software on this phone will work, but it’s probably a heavily skinned version of Android. Although, Google might not certify this device because the form factor is so odd — it just can’t render most apps correctly. Still, Essential will probably move forward with GEM because Andy Rubin is paying the bills. Rubin founded Android, which Google acquired in 2005. Rubin continued to lead the Android team until 2013, and he left the company a year later. In recent years, revelations have surfaced about Rubin’s alleged sexual harassment of fellow Googlers and his substantial $90 million exit package.
Currently, Essential seems to exist merely so Rubin has someplace to go each day. It’s not selling phones, and most of the other products it promised have never materialized. In that context, it’s entirely possible it will release a weird “lifestyle” phone like the GEM. That doesn’t mean it should, though.
- Essential Has Laid Off 30 Percent of Its Staff
- Report: Andy Rubin’s Essential Has Only Shipped 5,000 Phones
- Essential Admits the Essential Phone Has a Bad Camera