Andy Rubin’s beleaguered phone startup Essential is rumored to be working on a phone that is anything but your standard flagship. Think of it as an AI-powered device with a tiny screen that is supposed to reply to your text messages as if it was you and make calls on your behalf.
The Essential Phone PH-1 was a beautiful disaster that nobody wanted to buy and even fewer people knew about. Now, its creator and inventor of Android is reportedly on a mission to destroy Android phones as we know them to eliminate our screen addiction.
Apparently, Rubin’s new phone will not be much of a phone. Instead, Bloomberg’s report says, it will be an AI-powered device that will provide the functions of Google Duplex mixed with a bit of Alexa.
People familiar with the device, which may be teased at CES 2019, say that it has a tiny screen and it will capable of answering your text and emails on its own, as well as making calls and appointments like Google Duplex does.
The device, the report continues, will learn from you (how would it learn, we don’t know yet) by tracking how you use it. And yet, the alleged sources close to Rubin say that the objective of this gadget is to help us cut on our screen time, because we are very bad humans and we use too much Instagram and don’t play enough with our dogs, cats or children.
Those sources describe this phone assistant thingamajig as “Her”, the personal computer voiced by Scarlett Johansson in the eponymous movie directed by Spike Jonze. In the movie, the protagonist played by Joaquin Phoenix interacts with a computer that lives in the cloud and can do everything for him.
But then, the sources say that Rubin wants this to be a “companion” to your regular phone. But, at that point, why not just use your phone? Why have an extra device when you can use your phone to do exactly the same with an app? The Pixel 3, for example, can screen for robocalls and transcribe them on the fly, though it won’t respond to calls or messages for you
On the surface, this concept doesn't make much sense at all--even if you buy into the logic that people don’t want to spend as much screen time with their phones. Because, after all, there are apps for this, too, like Apple's Screen Time.
I don't see a $300 million startup taking on companies like Apple, Amazon and Google, who have been spending billions on AI just trying to get the basics right. But we'll have to see what 2019 brings.