Earlier this year, the Andy Rubin-led smartphone startup Essential closed its doors. The company only ever released one product, the PH-1 Android phone, but it had plenty of canceled endeavors. We already knew about the 'Project GEM' phone-like prototype, but it seems Essential was also working on two more regular phones.
Kevin Hoffman, who worked at Essential from 2017 to its closure as the Senior Industrial Designer, released a post on his personal site showcasing designs for unreleased PH-2 and PH-3 devices. The PH-2 would have been a minor design revision, with a SUS321 ultra-fine bead blasted frame, 2.5D glass, an IP68 rating, and a more rounded casing.
Essential Phone PH-2
According to Hoffman, the PH-2 was in development from October 2017 until February 2018. He wrote, "this project was cancelled at EVT2 to prioritize a favored product by the CEO: The Essential Home product line." You may recall that Essential originally intended to create a smart home speaker, but there was never any public news about the device after Andy Rubin discussed it in a 2017 interview.
A new phone reportedly began development in September 2019, dubbed the PH-3. "Essential PH3 was a project I led as a designer in an effort to create an inclusive phone with contemporary tech & aesthetic, at a low price point," Hoffman wrote. "The design was constrained to low BOM costs using a preexisting OLED display with defined dimensions, bead-blasted machined aluminum, and 2.5D cover glass."
Essential Phone PH-3
The low manufacturing costs likely means the PH-3 would have been a budget phone, featuring a triple camera array and a "chemical etched back cover glass." The PH-3 was supposedly only in development for a few months before Essential closed down.
Hoffman also shared a few more concept images for the Essential GEM, a phone-like device that was only made public as Essential started to shut down. The GEM would have featured an MX-resistant coating with "striking color effects," an OLED display, and a 3D molded glass unibody design.
The images show a few more design prototypes than Essential's public videos displayed. Multiple iterations were tested, including variants with multiple cameras and more curved edges.
It's interesting to see how future Essential smartphones might have looked, but the company would have faced an uphill battle, especially in the world of budget devices. The PH-1 only found success after its price was drastically cut, even with the creator of Android spearheading the project.
- Kevin Hoffman