Essential Products, the consumer electronics company founded by Android creator Andy Rubin, is reportedly working on a new smartphone that messages people for you and has a significantly smaller screen.
It’s an idea which sounds like something out of Hollywood, which is partly because it is. According to Bloomberg, Rubin has ditched efforts to follow up his first-attempt at a smartphone and also an entry into the smart speaker market for an idea which quite frankly sounds ridiculous.
The smartphone wouldn’t look like anything you would consider a smartphone today, featuring a much smaller screen with functionality relying on a voice user interface. Users wouldn’t even have to worry about reading or replying to messages as the AI would do this for you. In theory, should the AI be personalised enough, an entire conversation could happen without you even contributing to it once.
The idea itself seems to be a rip-off of the product which assists Jonny Depp in the movie ‘Her’. The device is smaller than anything you would see today, while connected earphones allow Depp to communicate with the AI seamlessly. While this might sound futuristic, it is a completely absurd idea, and the research team who validated such a preposterous proposal should be banned from working in the technology industry forever more.
Firstly, the voice user interface is not technology which has been perfected, and hasn’t been adopted by the general public. To drastically change the way we use mobile devices, the voice UI would have to be commonplace elsewhere. Smart speakers and infotainment systems in cars are a good start, but the idea is a long-way off normalisation. We’re not saying the voice UI will not become more important, but it is unfeasible to think it would overtake the touch UI in the foreseeable future.
Secondly, the AI would have to be incredibly personalised for the idea to work. Not only have we not seen an application which meets this criteria, but it would have to be trained by a huge amount of in-depth and incredibly personal information. Considering the world is turning against the technology industry because of the way data is being used and pro-privacy trends are gathering momentum, the credibility of this idea is completely undermined.
Thirdly, even if people are embracing brevity when it comes to communications, they still want to be part of the conversation. People are social and enjoy socialising with other people, even if it is short back and forth messages. Why would anyone want an AI to have all their conversations for them and essentially become a hermit.
Finally, Rubin seems to have missed the point of smartphones. These are not simply communications devices or PDAs anymore, they are evolving to become entertainment centres where users can watch movies, play games and search through images for their next holiday. Removing the large screen removes the potential for all of these uses; what user would want to buy this device? Rubin does has stated in the past he would like to help people break-free of their smartphone addiction, but you have to create a product which people would want to buy. This is the most basic business principle you could ever come across, a nine year-old would know it, but Rubin seems completely oblivious.
After laying the foundations for the Google entry into the mobile world, Rubin founded Essential and launched his own smartphone. The smartphone, named ‘Phone’, was supposed to be an alternative for premium Android users, and was a complete flop. Rubin ditched any attempt at a follow-up, instead intending to build his own smart speaker, though this has also been dropped in favour of this ludicrous device.
Essential is backed by about $300 million in investment, though the backers must be pulling their hair out as rumours emerge of such ideas. This looks to be a complete and utter waste of $300 million.