You can do everything ‘right’ in launching a new phone company … and still not make it work.

Andy Rubin’s new consumer electronics brand, Essential, had a pretty well-executed launch last week. There was a little bit of hype ahead of time, but also no real leaks or expectations. So when everyone saw the Essential Phone and Essential Home, and listened to CEO Rubin talk about his plans, people felt generally positively.

But of course, we’ve seen this play out plenty of times before. It’s relatively easy to design a really neat-looking phone, source some typical high-end components, and tell a compelling story about what the ethos of your device is. It’s a whole other level of commitment, execution and luck to actually turn that into a real, successful, sustainable product in the market.

My biggest concern is the mixed message — it’s not clear how big Essential expects to be.

On the face of it, the Essential Phone clearly looks like it’s a niche product for a very specific subset of consumers. It’s expensive, stylish, and runs near-stock Android. It’s priced like a flagship from Samsung, but at the moment has no carrier or retail partners in the U.S. — and unless Essential is willing to open up deep pockets on advertising, nobody is going to know it exists in the first place. But Rubin doesn’t see the Essential Phone as a niche product … he sees sales reaching a large scale relatively quickly.

It adds up to feeling like a mixed message. Is the phone a niche, well-made and interesting phone with features you can get anywhere else? Or is it a general consumer flagship that has a really wide potential customer base? It almost seems like Essential wants to start with the former to build a small dedicated early adopter group, then go to the latter strategy to actually make money. That transition is going to be very difficult to navigate.

And with that, a few more thoughts on the week that was:

  • The U.S. unlocked Galaxy S8 and S8+ are finally fully available, and a lot of people will be on the fence about whether or not to get one.
  • On one hand, I’ll always recommend people go unlocked. On the other, Samsung’s track record for updating unlocked phones is weak.
  • Apple’s WWDC keynote is on Monday at 10:00 a.m. PT. It’s worth watching, even if you’re not a fan of Apple — you can’t deny the pull that company has in the technology world.
  • Still super happy with the HTC U11, and I keep on using it despite it being an unlocked Taiwanese model missing a few radio bands. Can’t wait to get a U.S. unlocked model.
  • Another phone in my arsenal, as we talked about on the latest podcast, is the Sony Xperia XZ Premium.
  • In typical Sony fashion it’s beautiful, huge, spec-filled and has really good battery life. First impressions are the camera doesn’t seem to be up to the quality of the price tag, though.

Have a great week, everyone.

– Andrew



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