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Essential wants your attention as much as your money (for now)

Essential isn't even trying to compete with Samsung or even LG with their first phone.

You've probably read at least one "first look" at the Essential Phone. They all have a few things in common, and mostly leave us with the impression that it's an interesting first try from a new company. It's definitely an ambitious device in some ways, especially in the looks department. What you're probably not going to see is the Essential Phone at the top of any "must buy" lists beside the Samsung Galaxy S8 or LG G6. And I think that's just fine with Andy Rubin (the founder of Android) and company.

At least for now.

It's almost impossible for a new company to come along and make any headway in the Android world. Samsung takes almost all the business, and long-established brands like Motorola, HTC, and LG fight over the scraps, hoping to turn a profit. It takes three things to compete: a good product, agreements with U.S. carriers, and millions of dollars in advertising. At first glance, Essential has a good product, but that's where its competitiveness ends. Partnering with Sprint and TELUS alone and relying on word-of-mouth advertising just isn't good enough if you want to move a lot of product.

Andy Rubin knows this. Jason Mackenzie, head of sales for Essential and former president of HTC America, knows this. Everyone involved with the Essential Phone knows this. And while the company wouldn't complain if it ended up selling 20 million Essential Phones, it probably has simple, more focused goals right now: getting enthusiasts and industry people to talk about something new and grabbing our attention. That's a safe play and a smart play for the first phone from a brand new company. It costs money to build phones that have to sit in a warehouse waiting to be bought. It takes compromise (at least initially) to get companies like Verizon and AT&T to put your phones on their shelves and in their warehouses because that means they have less room for iPhones and Galaxy phones. And we all know how expensive advertising can be. A new company, no matter how well-known the people who built it are, has to be very careful.

Essential doesn't want to be a company that sells phones; it wants to be a company that also sells phones.

Essential has another trick up its sleeve, too — plans for a whole-house automation line. That's probably a harder sell than a phone, but that market doesn't have a Samsung to run away with all the numbers and Essential has one awesome thing to show people with a phone that looks very different and will act as a universal remote for everything in your house. Rubin and his team are wizards at smart machines, automation, and robotics. If they can catch your eye with a slick device like the Essential Phone, they can continue to impress with a line of home products that are attractive and work as advertised. Rather, if they can catch the eye of a non-enthusiast who only knows about Amazon's Echo and Alexa when it comes to doing things like switching their lights or locking their doors.

I'm not suggesting that Essential doesn't care about the phone segment of the market, just that they have a bigger picture and a multi-year plan for their company. Or maybe I'm wrong and they just want to sell as many phones as they can. Either way, it's going to be interesting to watch.

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