Earlier this year, Android founder Andy Rubin surprised everyone when he announced the Essential smartphone. It’s not that people were surprised to see Rubin working on a high-end luxury Android device — it’s that he created a brand-new company to make it, without backing from one of the smartphone business’s big names.
Despite what you might think from looking at Apple’s Scrooge-sized pile of iPhone cash, making money off smartphones is hard business. Sony, HTC, LG, and Motorola have all lost vast amounts of time and money trying. It’s even harder to sell phones as an unknown brand, and doubly so when your price is right up there with the Galaxy S8 and iPhone 7.
To cut a long story short, we all assumed Rubin was screwed when he made the announcement. But weeks before the phone goes on sale, Essential has had a huge boost that might just make this whole thing viable.
Amazon, Tencent, and Foxconn — Apple’s manufacturing partner — have all come on board as strategic investment partners for Essential. Tencent and Foxconn investing is a big vote of confidence for the fledgling company, but it’s Amazon’s participation that might make the difference here. Essential has confirmed that the phone will go on sale through Amazon in the “coming weeks,” and you can bet that it’ll get prominent front-page placement on Amazon’s storefront.
With Amazon on board, Essential’s distribution is actually looking incredibly solid. It’s being sold through Amazon, Best Buy, Sprint, and Essential’s own website. It’s not quite as good as having distribution through all the major wireless carriers, but it’s better than OnePlus, for comparison.
Will big-name investors and good retail placement be enough to finally break the curse on niche expensive Android handsets? My gut feel is that sales still won’t be huge, but Rubin’s company is definitely giving it every chance to succeed.