"Announce something," the Essential fan cried last September. "We'll make an announcement," the CEO responded in June. It's been difficult to follow a short, terse conversation spread over several months, much less the saga of what kind of product would follow Essential's first phone — a phone design was supposedly binned, a smart home hub has never been released, and all of this while the company itself was reportedly being considered for sale. Now, we finally have word from the company that it has taken action to get a second product to market.
The one thing we do know comes courtesy from a company spokesperson in response to an XDA-Developers email, saying that "the Essential team is working on a new device," which is now in "early testing."
The rest comes cobbled from a few pieces of intel scattered between a few XDA forum members.
One of them noted a commit initiated by an Essential engineer who needed a patch on a device with a 90° or 270° (horizontal) orientation display in order to show a boot animation correctly. Funnily enough, another XDA forum user and LineageOS dev Łukasz Patron had made a patch which Essential sought out. Oddly, Essential's own build bot had shot an email to Patron, revealing key details of the device that is being patched.
The log included mentions of the microG open source app package, (for a company that proudly works with Google Mobile Services apps, this is a curveball), Android 10 (apparently involving a Q build from July 11), and a featured called "Fingerprint Walkie-Talkie" which could allow push-to-talk functionality of some sort through contact with a fingerprint sensor.
Last October, Bloomberg reported from sources that Essential was developing a sort of "anti-smartphone" with a smart display and heavy reliance on voice commands. Whether the unusual display orientation and the walkie-talkie feature have anything to do with the pieces we have right now is not clear.
In more hardcore terms, a list of binaries from the bot log reveals that Essential is working on code for the Qualcomm Snapdragon 730 (SM7150), as well as four Sony camera sensors (13MP IMX258, 16MP IMX519, 20MP IMX476, 48MP IMX586) and one Samsung camera sensor (5MP S5K5E9).
"Early testing" does not suggest a go-to-market strategy for the holiday season, but it would make sense for Essential as it launched the original PH-1 in the summer of 2017. We'll have to see where the intel goes from here.