Andy Rubin's Essential Products Pulls Plug On Project Gem, Shuts Down

Essential Products, the smartphone startup launched by controversial Android co-founder Andy Rubin, announced yesterday it was shutting down just four months after introducing  a new device, Project Gem, that never made it to market.

“Our vision was to invent a mobile computing paradigm that more seamlessly integrated with people’s lifestyle needs. Despite our best efforts, we’ve now taken Gem as far as we can and regrettably have no clear path to deliver it to customers,” reads  a blog posted to its website. 



After raising raising $330 million in funding, the Palo Alto-California-based company “ended up releasing a single smartphone, the Essential Phone, in 2017, along with two modular accessories: a $200 360-degree camera and a $150 clip-on headphone jack (yes, really). Since then, the company has just kind of hung around and canceled in-development products. It has done very little in the ‘selling things for money’ category of business,” writes  Ron Amadeo for Ars Technica.

“Essential planned to sell a charging dock for the Essential Phone, but that product was never released. Alongside the phone, the company announced a smart display called the ‘Essential Home’ and a new smart operating system called ‘Ambient OS,’ but neither the hardware nor software ever materialized,” Amadeo adds.

"When Essential debuted its first phone in 2017, it seemed to have a lot going for it. The device had a premium build quality, the backing of Android’s creator, and a unique nearly all-screen design with a cutout camera notch that hadn’t been seen before,” writes  Jacob Kastrenakes for The Verge.

“But the phone’s design very quickly became standard fare -- the iPhone X was released just months later, and a wave of notch knock-offs followed. And the Essential Phone itself wasn’t helped by some faults of its own: it was a Sprint exclusive in the U.S., confining it to the smallest nationwide carrier, and its camera was widely criticized by reviewers,” Kastrenakes continues.

“The company quickly rose to prominence largely because of its high-profile founder, Mr. Rubin, who sold his previous startup, Android, to Google in 2005. He then helped Google turn Android’s software into the world’s most-used smartphone operating system. Mr. Rubin left Google in 2014,” Sarah E. Needleman writes  for The Wall Street Journal.

“Around the time of his departure from Google, Mr. Rubin said he was starting an incubator for startups interested in building technology hardware. But a shareholder lawsuit filed in California Superior Court last year called into question the circumstances behind Mr. Rubin’s exit from the company,” Needleman adds.

“Rubin has been mired in controversy for the last two years, after a New York Times report on sexual misconduct allegations against Rubin while he was at Google. The search giant reportedly gave him a $90 million exit package and kept quiet about the accusations. Rubin has denied the claims. The report spurred a worldwide walkout at Google in November 2018, when more than 20,000 workers marched out of their offices to protest Google management’s handling of the accusations,” report  CNET’s Richard Nieva and Alison DeNisco Rayome.

“Rubin's scandals also affected Essential's reputation in the media. When Rubin teased the Gem devices on Twitter in October, the announcement sparked a debate about tech founders and the ability to dissociate their personal lives from their products,” they add.

Wired's Lauren Goode, in one example Nieva and Rayome cite, wrote that it's “getting harder to look at consumer products and their pretty packages without thinking about the people making them, and the power behind them.”

Rubin, who was not available for comment yesterday, said the charges were “a smear campaign designed to damage his name as part of a divorce and custody battle with his ex-wife Rie Rubin” in 2018 tweets that have since been deleted, Isobel Asher Hamilton reported  for Business Insider.

“The Project Gem reveal, it seems, was a Hail Mary that turned into a parting shot. What ‘taken Gem as far as we can’ means with regard to a product that didn’t make it beyond the promotional video stage remains to be seen,” Brian Heater writes for TechCrunch.

“Sadly, this also seems to be an end for Newton Mail, the power user-focused email client Essential took over when it acquired CloudMagic in 2018. Essential says that ‘current Newton Mail users will have access to the service through April 30, 2020,” Heater adds.

And then, presumably, it falls like Newton’s apple. 

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