Here’s the big question for Andy Rubin, widely known as the father of Android: what’s next? The answer, in part, is that his new company is announcing an entire ecosystem of products that will work together: an intelligent assistant device for you home, a 360 camera, and (of course) a phone. That last one runs Android, which is what you’d expect from any new phone maker.
The company he started to make all this is called Essential, and in a blog post explaining why it exists, Rubin tells a typical founder story: going out for the night with a friend, talking about the state of technology and how to fix it. Funny thing, though, one of the problems he sees with the state of tech today involves the OS he helped create, Android:
For all the good Android has done to help bring technology to nearly everyone it has also helped create this weird new world where people are forced to fight with the very technology that was supposed to simplify their lives. Was this what we had intended? Was this the best we could do?
Rubin’s new phone, the Essential Phone, is of course based on that very operating system. But it’s probably safe to assume that it will either try to simplify Android somehow or that it’s just a stopgap until it’s viable for Essential to ship a phone running its other system, Ambient OS. Or maybe both — or neither! Rubin’s statement seems to serve both as a mea culpa and as a platform to launch something better.
We don’t know yet whether the Essential phone or Ambient OS will be mean less fighting with technology — nor whether Rubin is planning on building more on top of Android or supplanting it. Presumably some of those questions will be answered today as he speaks at the Code conference.
What we can say is this, Rubin has some core principles for his company that would make the two-billion-device Android ecosystem a lot better. Here are a few of his bullet points that seem relevant:
Devices are your personal property. We won’t force you to have anything on them you don’t want to have.
We will always play well with others. Closed ecosystems are divisive and outdated.
Devices shouldn’t become outdated every year. They should evolve with you.
Those principles all make sense, but they’ve also been damnably hard to live up to in a world where carriers not only hold back updates, but also enmesh themselves into the very operating systems of the phones they sell. Even powerhouses like Samsung struggle to ship their phones without carrier software loaded on them. Plenty of Android makers have shipped clean, unlocked phones without extra “crapware” on them, promising prompt updates. Most of them have languished in obscurity.
But just because a problem is hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. We’ll be watching to see how Essential tackles it.