Phone maker Essential shuts down after failing to launch Gem phone

Essential Gem Phone
(Image credit: Essential)

Essential has officially shut down after trying unsuccessfully to get its new Gem phone to market.

The company tried to make a splash with its Essential Phone (PH-1) but ultimately failed. Reviews like ours panned out the phone for being “beautiful but not fully baked.” The company tried to make a comeback after rumors of its imminent demise with the Gem, the weirdly elongated candybar phone that was supposed to bring a few innovations to the mobile world.

However, after bold claims, the Gem has vanished into the realm of vaporware and the company has announced its definitive shut down.

In October, we introduced Project GEM, a new mobile experience that our hardware, software and cloud teams have been building and testing for the past few years. 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. Given this, we have made the difficult decision to cease operations and shutdown Essential.

Essential was founded by Andy Rubin, a former manufacturing engineer at Apple from 1989 to 1992 and one of the creators of Android. He became a high rank at Google after the Mountain View company bought the OS to start its own phone business to compete with Apple. He finally left Google in 2014 following sexual harassment allegations — according to The New York Times, Rubin was asked to resign by Google following forced-sex accusations from an employee in 2013. There was a big scandal when it was discovered that Google tried to protect him and paid him a $90 million exit package.

That scandal clearly hurt the company after the release of its modular Essential Phone. While Essential hasn’t clarified the exact reasons that led to the shutdown except beyond saying it has no “clear path“ to deliver the Gem, it’s reasonable to think that the company may have had trouble finding the financial muscle needed to get Gem from prototype to final product after both the failed PH-1 and the sex scandal that tainted its founder.

A flawed phone and a weird failed promise

Being the father of Android, Rubin made a lot of noise with the promise of a better Android phone than anyone else. The hype failed to materialize and the phone was considered underpowered and flawed, despite its clean hardware design and software. According to our review by EIC Mark Spoonauer and Mike Prospero, “the Essential Phone is a gorgeous Android phone with an edge-to-edge screen, clever modular design and refreshingly clean software, but the camera is a letdown so far.”

The phone really never took off in the market and became a niche device. And while Essential kept its promise to update it with new versions of Android as soon as they became available, nobody really cared by then.

After the much publicized sex scandal, Rubin and Essential tried a comeback with something new called the Gem, a phone with an extremely elongated format that the company was trying to position as something “radically different”.

While the device raised some eyebrows in the online community and threw in some nice ideas, it appears that it didn’t have enough oomph to drive it through development and release.

Jesus Diaz

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story and wrote old angry man rants, among other things. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce, and currently writes for Fast Company and Tom's Guide.