Anyone who knows the smartphone market knows that there are two essential release cycles, with one lesser cycle during the course of the year. The first cycle is typically late February until May with the second falling in place in late August through October.
Samsung, LG, and HTC typically launch their first flagships in that initial window and Apple and Google in the second, with Samsung and LG’s alternative (and sometimes most anticipated) flagships launching in this period as well.
For a smaller manufacturer, or a new one, these are months to avoid at nearly all costs. The news cycles immediately before these periods are marked by a season of leaks and the cycles themselves are ridden with speculation, events, first looks, reviews, damage control, and opinion pieces of all flavors. This deluge of news is why some devices can literally get drowned out entirely, only to reappear a few months later in articles or videos reminiscing “hey, this phone was actually pretty good”. Motorola knows this well, and as of late they’ve adjusted their launch events for their major flagships to fall just between of these windows in the early summer – usually June, July, or early August – thus giving them a wide open slot to get good coverage without competing directly against the biggest brands. HTC has launched their flagship in May or later each year likely due to this as well, a strategy seemingly adopted after the colossal defeat the M9 suffered at the hands of the S6.
OnePlus has mastered their timing and benefited from it as their middle-of-the-year launches are typically uncontested by other major players, since the early year flagships are getting stale, yet waiting another two or more months for the next wave can be too much to bear. Andy Rubin’s Essential looked to target this window as well, waiting until the end of May (4 weeks outside of the first window) to announce their new device and had it pegged to ship by the end of June, perfect timing for competing only with OnePlus as a marketable player, and going head to head against a neutered Sony Xperia device in the ultra-premium segment; the game was theirs to lose, and boy did they fumble at the 1 yard line.
When Essential first announced they were going to be launching the phone within 30 days, I was personally highly skeptical. Not only is a 30 day (post unveiling) launch for a brand new company difficult, they also did not have any firm carrier or launch partners which means the supply chain still needed to be established; something they did manage to do about 2 weeks later with Sprint in the US. It took nearly 45 days for confirmation outside of the US when they announced UK launch, but it is important to note they are only in talks with the carrier EE and other partners and nothing is finalized, thus going back to the supply chain issues. Going from zero to a hundred in 30 days flat was a grand promise and one that many in the industry likely took with a grain of salt. However, Andy Rubin’s excellent sales pitch, or maybe his revered history and namesake, was more than enough for many, as there was a sizable outcry when the device missed its 30 day launch window.
So that brings us to today, over 50 days post announcement and we still have no device, no reviews, no tangible timeline. In fact, up until a week ago there was no news at all coming from Essential, and the news that we did receive were confusing, and likely over reaching. The first tidbit came from Essentials COO Niccolo de Masi, in an interview with Financial Times where he stated the launch was “imminent”. Great! But not so fast. In an email that went out shortly after the COO’s comments, Andy Rubin stated that the Essential Phone would launch in a few weeks — hardly “imminent”. To make matters worse he said that the device “is going through testing and certification with multiple US and international carriers”, and we’ve come to know, this can take more time than expected.
As the Essential phone spends more time packaged in warehouses, the fiercest competitors are preparing to bring out their best products
Since the Essential announcement – and subsequent delays – we have seen Google Pixel 2 XL leaks along with a highly-detailed and supposedly-accurate renders of the highly anticipated device which is looking to improve upon the previous Pixel XL (at least in terms of design). Furthermore, we have had more firm rumors of the Galaxy Note 8 as well as the LG V30; both of which are shaping up to be just as good, if not better versions of their prior devices. Samsung has even already sent out invitations for their event at the end of August which will fall very closely in line with when Essential looks to push their phone out. Even though these phones highlight two ends of the spectrum, a large Note 8 vs the smaller Essential, they occupy the same uber-premium device market and today, when the actual size of the device matters less and less, the Note 8 and Essential will likely be two phones vying for many of the same shoppers. If the Note 8 doesn’t do the trick, the Pixel 2 and the much-awaited iPhone 10th Anniversary (or iPhone Pro) will only be another 45 days or less away based on prior history.
This does not bode well for Essential. There’s no doubt that Andy Rubin and his team are doing everything they can to beat the clock, but the clock has already struck 11:55 and 12:00 is nigh. Buyers are already beginning to look ahead to what is on the horizon, a horizon that was not in sight two months back or even just thirty days ago when the device was already supposed to have shipped. Only time will tell if the Essential PH-1 will be a success, but the mountain they need to climb is only getting taller each and every day as they inch closer to mighty competitors. They need to have a totally flawless launch and bring an absolutely stunning device – in both software and hardware – to the table in order to even have the smallest semblance of success, should they get too close.
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