Just over one year into its endeavor to “inject passion back into smartphones,” Essential appears to be on its last legs. Bloomberg reported the smartphone manufacturer founded by Android creator Andy Rubin is exploring a sale and has scrapped plans to develop a second smartphone.
According to the report, Essential already has one unnamed suitor interested in scooping up its assets and is actively shopping itself to other potential buyers who are willing to sweep up all of its pieces: patents, hardware, upcoming projects included, with current employees remaining on board to see those projects through under new ownership.
Without a buyer taking over the brand, it seems as though Essential is effectively done. Bloomberg said the company has canceled its second-generation smartphone despite spending more than $100 million on product development.
Essential did not directly address this claim, but a spokesperson for the company told The Verge the following, which seems to suggest there is some validity to the report:
We always have multiple products in development at the same time and we embrace canceling some in favor of the ones we think will be bigger hits. We are putting all of our efforts towards our future, game-changing products, which include mobile and home products.
Despite its name, Essential has been basically anything but so far. The company produced a single phone that, while generally well reviewed, was far from a revelation in the smartphone market. The first—and possibly only—Essential Phone (PH-1) carried a $700 price tag and a striking titanium and ceramic build but the camera was an absolute mess and plagued with serious shutter lag. It took months for the company to straighten out issues with the device.
If anything, Essential has been a company full of promise by marred by mistakes. After building up enough hype to make people think Essential would be the handset that would show off the potential of Android and serve as an iPhone killer, the company completely botched its initial launch. Early adopters sat through months of delays waiting to get their hands on the phone and some were charged multiple times for the same device.
Once Essential finally got its shipping operation in order, the company suffered another unforced error by asking customers to provide personal information including photo IDs, signatures, and billing addresses via email to confirm orders. Worse, the company CC’d multiple recipients on the email so each reply revealed those private details to every person on the thread, creating a self-doxing Replyallcalypse.
For all of its hype—which generated $300 million in funding from the likes of Amazon and Tencent and a $1 billion valuation before the company ever made a phone—Essential never really managed to make a mark on the wider smartphone market. According to Bloomberg, it sold about 150,000 units of its first phone since launching last August—even with massive price drops in recent months.
The Essential brand may not be completely finished, as the company has also reportedly considered staying in the phone business by licensing out its name to a contractor—namely, Foxconn—that would handle the device’s development. Whether it’s sold off entirely or continues operating in name only, Essential will just be a shell of what it promised.