Android creator Andy Rubin's firm might think its phone is Essential, but 30% of staff are not

Promises 'truly game changing consumer product'... Please, not the Clippy mobe

The phone startup founded by Andy Rubin – creator of WebTV, the Sidekick and Android – has reportedly laid off 30 per cent of its staff. Essential is still in the game, but only just.

A spokesperson told Bloomberg that Essential had "a sharpened product focus" and promised a "truly game changing consumer product". So far it has spent $100m with just one phone to show for it. Essential was put up for sale in May.

The phone was just one part of a smart home play that sought to unify disparate electronics platforms. However, Essential sold just 88,000 units of its much anticipated phone in 2017, according to IDC.

Ominously, Mark Gurman reported, the Notch pioneer appears to be betting its hopes on the public falling in love with Clippy the Paperclip, and is developing a phone with "small screen that will try to mimic the user and automatically respond to messages on their behalf".

(Say it ain't so, Andy. People hate being chivvied, prodded and nagged by semi-functioning AI agents.)

In China, where capital sloshes around like bilge water on a leaky tanker, $100m is nothing. But Essential is apparently exhausting the patience of US investors. Last year TechCrunch reported that Rubin had raised some $300m for Essential, but had failed to land the support of SoftBank.

SoftBank's Saudi-backed Vision Fund is flinging huge sums at big data and AI, around $50bn a year, ("creating its own bubble," the FT noted).

While WeWork and Uber are beneficiaries, Rubin, a proven creative CEO and founder, isn't. ®

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