Watch out, Amazon Echo. There's a newcomer on the block called Essential Home. That's the just-unveiled smart hub by Android cofounder Andy Rubin, of course, and it'll launch alongside his new Essential phone.
One can argue that smartphone innovation has stalled. To be fair, though, aren't smartphones innovative enough? Since touchscreens were introduced, the law of diminishing returns kicked into gear — now, each smartphone manufacturers release in the market arguably aren't groundbreaking anymore, at least in any significant sense of the word.
But there's one field where smartphones haven't found firm foothold in — smart hub systems. Apple, Google, Amazon all have very different ideas on how their products fit into the whole smart home ecosystem, but none have really built a handset with such a functionality from the beginning.
Essential is trying to change that.
Essential's two products, the phone and Home, are powered by an operating system that appears to have been designed around the concept of a seamless companion hub from the ground up.
"With Ambient OS, your home is the computer," said Manuel Roman, head of engineering for Essential. "Ambient OS is aware of the physical layout of your home, the people that live in it, services relevant to both your home and the people within, and devices."
It's clear that a smart hub system is one of the chief goals Essential sought out to achieve from the beginning. A Wired profile of Rubin posted Tuesday, May 30, hinted at those ambitions, with Essential tipped to be "the open platform that will power the billions of phones, watches, light bulbs, and toaster ovens about to come online."
Those words seem tall, but hopefully, Rubin can clarify exactly how his company plans to achieve this goal. By the looks of things, however, Essential's phone and Amazon Echo competitor plan to usurp the competition by embracing an open-source platform and developing a virtual assistant that gets more intelligent the more people use it.
That makes sense, of course — open-source is one of the marquee qualities of Android. But the committee appears to be more aggressive in that department, thanks in part to the lack of higher-ups maintaining control and influence of the company's decisions. It's all just Rubin. It's all just Essential — for now, at least.
Essential: More Than A Smart Home Hub
But Essential Home goes beyond open-source. Yes, the company believes in the future of smart homes, but at the same time, it wants to approach it differently than typical solutions such as automation and "opaque devices with blinking lights."
"The idea behind Essential Home is that technology is there, supportive, and proactive enough to be helpful, without forcing you to ask or type a question," said Mara Segal, Essential's head of product for home devices. "It's in your environment; you can tap or glance at it, but it never intrudes or takes you away from the things that are important to you."
For now, all Essential can offer are descriptions steeped with buzzwords — to wow and win consumers, it would need to show off real-world examples soon. But if it succeeds in making the smart home experience as unobtrusive, integrated, and seamless as possible, then it stands a chance to win the race. It might even prove it deserves to call itself "Essential."