Andrew E. "Andy" Rubin is an American computer programmer, engineer, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist. He is the founder and CEO of tech startup incubator Playground Global and a partner at venture capital firm Redpoint Ventures.
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Hi friends, I'm excited to be here for another AMA.
I've been keeping busy these days with a few projects, including my venture fund and incubator Playground Global and my company Essential, which recently released our first product, Essential Phone. You can check it out here: https://www.essential.com/
Proof 360 photo: https://kuula.co/post/7lv71
Proof Tweet: https://twitter.com/Arubin/status/908402598771752960
I'm here with (in clock-wise order in the photo above): Linda Jiang, Essential's Head of Industrial Design; Dave Evans, Essential's VP of Design; Rebecca Zavin, Essential's VP of Software; Joe Tate, Essential's VP of Hardware.
We'll be here from 12 - 1pm PDT answering questions. Ask us anything!
EDIT: Thanks for joining us! We had a great time chatting with everyone today. We keep an eye on /r/essential so feel free to post topics there that you'd like us to see.
I'm the developer of Nova Launcher, the most popular replacement home screen for Android. We've been getting a ton of emails from Essential users complaining about how the Essential draws a large black notification bar instead of letting Nova, or any third party app not on your whitelist use the full screen. I'm aware of the adb commands to work around this, but that's not an ideal solution for end users.
How can I get my app white listed to use the full screen? It looks awful having a black bar over the wallpaper. Your users right now are early adopters, they're very likely to be power users who expect to be able to use a replacement launcher without issues. I'm used to dealing with OEM shenanigans but it doesn't even seem there is any hack I can do to use the full screen.
Please let developers opt-in to use the full screen. Or you could just use the standard Android APIs for insets. The creator of Android, you, had diverse hardware in mind. Embrace it!
Hey! Message us directly and we'll whitelist you today! -Rebecca
What are your plans to address the widespread criticism of the PH-1's camera? What are the challenges and the plans for future software improvements on it?
Hi! We are pretty happy with the hardware design of the camera. We are using computational photography to fuse a monochrome and color sensors. That's the part we're not too happy about, but luckily it's software and we've already done a number of updates to the app to fix bug and add features. - andyR
What is essentials stand on custom development? When will kernel sources be released? Will you release factory images like google does with nexus/pixel devices? Will we see a SDK for the dual cameras so third party developers can use both rear cameras/360 cameras in their own apps? Android OREO ETA? I can go on but those are my top questions I would love to get answers to!
We are excited about supporting 3rd party developers. We'll be releasing our kernel and factory images in the next few days. Android O will be coming in the next month or two.
Can't wait to see a official Dev page some where on the essential site! Let's all hope it is a few days and not a few months like the phone release!
One more question regarding Android O, will you guys offer a beta channel like Android?
We're thinking about it. Upvote if you'd be in! -Rebecca
Why remove the headphone jack?
Some people consider it 'essential', what's your team take on that?
Headphone jacks are pretty big components and they don't play nice with all-screen Phone architectures. We studied it very seriously, but fitting a headphone jack into our Phone required tradeoffs we were uncomfortable with. We'd have grow a huge "chin" in the display and reduce the battery capacity by 10%, or we'd need a huge headphone bump! We decided it was more important to have a beautiful full-screen display in a thin device with solid battery life. Then we made sure we to build ya'll a high-quality DAC in a tiny adapter that can elegantly live on your headphones. - Dave
What other snap-on attachments can we expect to see? Do you have plans to release a dedicated zoom camera attachment/set of prime lens attachments?
We are under development on a number of Click Connector accessories. The first available should be the charging dock. We are also actively developing a high end audio accessory to support a 3.5mm jack. We are continuing to look at supporting ideas, like cameras. -Joe
Yeah, our head of architecture is in Asia right now getting our high-end audio accessory super dialed. He graciously called me at 3AM today so we could talk about some specifics for our design... We are working literally around the clock around the globe to get your awesome new things ready. - Dave
Any idea when this device will get fully certified with Verizon?
We have been in the certification process with Verizon and are at the tail end. Could come as soon as tomorrow! These certifications really help enhance our overall quality, so your patience will pay off! - andyR
Team is smiling
There have been reports of multiple software problems such as touches not registering properly (especially on the edges) and micro stuttering while scrolling. Are you guys working to address those issues? Also what other software issues are being worked on?
Note: my touch issues have been fixed with the recent OTA update but others haven't. Why would that be the case?
We're happy we were able to address some of your issues! You'll see performance bug fixes continuing to roll out in our subsequent release. The top performance issue we are pursuing is that UI freeze up that turns out is lock contention in the System UI thread! Now that we're hot on it's trail we should have a fix soon. -Rebecca
Are the LTE reception problems on the essential phone fixable in software?
Would like to understand more around your reception problems so I can get you an answer. As you know, LTE Modems are complex and there are a number of factors that cause reception or coverage. -Joe
We have not heard of reception issues. We tested favorably vs. the competition in the labs. I'll have someone reach out and get your logs. - andyR
Can we expect Essential PH-1 to be released in Europe? Looking for a new phone and the Essential Phone would be perfect!
Working on it as a priority. -andyR
I know it was stated that a case isnt needed for this phone, but for those that WANT a case, any chance we can get one from you guys? From what I've seen, your design team is top notch and I would love to see a case designed by y'all.
We are working closely with several brands to produce cases for our phone, so they'll be coming from our friends and partners and not from Essential. We play nice with others, so we're supporting lots of requests from accessory companies!- Linda
When can we expect white?
White is coming! Pure White ceramic is in build trials now. We're looking at a few weeks until they're in boxes and shipping, especially as we fill the manufacturing backlog on Moon Black. - Dave
People have also been reporting worse cell signal strength than other phones in areas that don't have the best reception. Would this be fixable on your end?
Coverage is a complex issue. We are always looking for feedback on problem locations so that we can field test to fix issues which are software based. Its hard to look just at signal strength when comparing phones. For instance, which cell tower is serving you may be different even though you are in the same location with two phones. When we performed field testing sometimes we would score better than reference phones sometimes worse. We are a bit more conservative on signal bars. Which, unfortunately, there is no standard for on mobile devices. But, please let us know the locations and we can take a look -Joe
Will Essential support ROMs and custom development by releasing the kernel source code and boot.img?
Will Essential support an upgrade program involving trade-ins for a discounted price on newer models?
Ps. I'm really enjoying the PH-1 right now, appreciate addressing bugs in software and feel camera is pretty good now! Thanks!
Yes on ROMs. Not sure about trades-in yet. Startups need usually need to gain traction before that's financially possible. -andyR
I've noticed that my phone will completely freeze and not respond to touch or the physical buttons, and I have to manually reboot my phone.
Is this a known hardware or software issue? Should I reach out for a replacement under the warranty?
Would like to get more data from you on what you have installed on the device and when you are seeing this issue. Obviously, this is not how the phone should perform. Its hard to tell from your description if it is hardware or software -Joe
what kind of bear is best?
That's a ridiculous question - Dwight
Drop tests have shown the screen to shatter quite easily on the PH-1. Are you taking that into consideration for the next generation phone?
Also, how often do you see Essential releasing new phone models?
We have performed drop tests to industry standards and have performed as well or better to other devices. We are always looking to improve reliability and test to standards to improve the customer experience. -Joe
When do you plan on open sourcing the Essential connector?
We have a reference design almost complete. Once ready, it will be made available to 3rd parties so they can easily integrate our connector into their products. This works for hobbyists as well! -andyR
When can we expect more information and the release of the Essential Home? How will it integrate with the Essential Phone?
I'm particularly excited about the home product. It has the potential to unify all the disparate devices in your home, including your phone! Not quite ready to talk details, but development is going well and we'll have something to show soon.
When will the essential phone dock be available?
We are planning on having the dock out shortly. Our final prototype build is this month and we will have it available for purchase after we run through reliability testing -Joe
Hi Andy - thanks for coming in... Team Essential - thanks to you too. I was on the fence until the latest camera and patch releases. Please understand how important it is for your customers that you guys live up to your promises i.e. delivering useful bug fixes and timely updates. To that effect, how can we participate in a support feedback loop? How can we send bugs and enhancement requests directly to the team and feel like we are part of the product improvement process? Thanks!
Thank you! We are going to keep rolling out those updates to you and we are definitely paying attention to your feedback. We're also working on a plan to support developers. Keep those comments coming!
We'll work on a forum for our website. I want to create a company where the engineers to talk to customers. -andyR
It seems to be an issue with the modem hopping bands way too rapidly. More than happy to help.
DM us please - andyR
When will the phone be released in Sweden or in Europe with an EU plug?
Tooling for the EU plug for the power adapter is underdevelopment now. First shots will be here this month. - Joe
Any plans to offer an subscription upgrade plan similar to Apple's? (Pay $30/month and always have the latest iPhone)
Have thought specifically about HaaS models. Nothing to announce just yet :-) - andyR
With the new crop of phones slated for release before the holiday season what do you see as the primary points that will allow the Essential Phone to compete?
Design, materials, expandability, stock android, fast updates, open mentality. -andyR
Hello Mr. Rubin
So one of my biggest frustrations with smartphones is that it seems like every year we get all these exciting new features, but battery life is seemingly stuck at barely squeezing by one day. Do you think this would possibly change in smartphones in the future in the way we'll get a breakthrough and get possibly several days of battery life?
This is one of the dilemmas for product designers. We could easily make the device thicker to accommodate a larger battery. But consumers don't like thick devices. (we can also make them a lot thinner, but they'd only last a few hours). The product designers typically take a "just right" approach, which equals one day... - andyR
Is there any possibilities to make a transparent ceramic glass? That's pretty solid.
It is not possible in Zirconia ceramic (what the phone has today), unfortunately. Interesting idea though! - Linda
Is there a scheduled release date for the 3.5mm headphone jack module? It was teased during the announcement of the phone
Right now there isn't a release date for this Click Accessory, but we do have prototypes we are actively testing -Joe
Very interested in this -- I'm a long time Apple user until I just got the Essential phone -- ADB and all of that is new to me but I want my apps to take advantage of the full screen.
The in-screen front facing camera was a new feature for Android. To ensure Android compatibility, Google asked us to letterbox applications out of the cutout area by default. If you are a developer who wants to use the full screen, shoot us an email and we'll add your app to our whiteilst. The whitelist can be updated via the Play Store, so you won't have to wait for a full software update. -Rebecca
Excellent. Will there be sufficient source release to replicate the userspace build as well? Binary redistributables for proprietary QCT or Essential pieces?
This is a tough one but we're going to take a stab at is as part of our Android O support. It might take us a little longer to get there. No promises, but it's definitely a goal for us too. -Rebecca
I've troubleshot w/ATT reps, including issuing a new SIM. LTE just isn't being availabl to phone. Shows only H (4G) and that means subway rides lose connection & am getting slower speeds.
Please PM as I want to understand where you are located... we can figure out what the issue is.... Subway rides are problematic if underground. But please PM -Joe
What devices would you cite as an influence on the Ph-1? The shape of the edges reminds me of the iPhone 4.
We actually designed the device from scratch and did not take influence from other devices. The details are all there for a good reason. Our side walls are straight in order to reduce the amount of visual and physical border around the display. We actually took many, many weeks just to lock on the appropriate corner radius- just round enough to feel approachable and human, but also tight enough to allow for as many pixels in the corners as possible. Hope that helps - Linda
When can we expect other colours apart from Black Moon to roll out to the market? Especially Stellar Grey and Ocean Depths? Need Timeframes please..
I'm afraid we can't give you specifics for colors like Ocean. As we ramped up capacity we discovered that non-white/black colors are less stable in production than we'd like, so it's much harder for us to give dates. We have standards for quality that we are unwilling to compromise. Right now we can get a few good pieces of Ocean, but not enough to start true mass-production. The chemistry of ceramics is just super, super tricky. Here's an anecdote for our Reddit friends: our partners in engineered ceramics told us the first time they tried to make gray, decades ago, they mixed black + white and it came out green! So yeah, fine tuning colors is incredibly hard, so we're launching with black and white first, with matte black / gray close behind. - Dave
Hello Mr. Rubin,
So what do you think are going to be the most exciting new developments in smartphone technology in the coming years?
Manufacturing is insanely hard, especially when you're a new player and when you're working with new materials and tech.
Manufacturing is always a challenge and new materials make it more of a challenge. For instance, CNC'ing titanium is much more difficult because of heat build up vs. Aluminum. We have a quality plans in place to address the some of the issues you mention. -Joe
Why not include Qi wireless charging in the phone itself? It doesn't look like the charging coil takes up that much room and the Essential wouldn't have hurt that much to be a little thicker to accommodate it if necessary. Is the material choice what prevented this from being included?
We are solving this with the charging dock, which is much more "Green" than Qi power as its more efficient and solves the "drop and charge" issue. -Joe
PM us and we'll see if we can debug it with your help. -Rebecca
What sort of challenges has Essential faced when designing the body for dust and water resistance and balancing a certain degree of resistance with other features and costs? Is it simply impractical to design a body to IP66/67/68 (ideally one of the latter two) ratings without making major sacrifices elsewhere, including the size, weight, and hardware?
High dust and water resistance is a huge appeal to me yet options are very limited in that regard. My guess is it's not a major priority for most customers but I'm sort of clueless about the difficulties dust and water resistance present on the engineering and manufacturing side of things.
You nailed it, there are definitely tradeoffs to every design decisions and we had plenty of debates around ingress protection. When we studied waterproofing the Phone we discovered it would have made the device quite a bit thicker and the borders around the display would have doubled. Ultimately we decided to focus on making it "weatherproof" for daily use while maintaining that just-so blend of a huge display that also fits comfortably in your hand. That made sure the battery was big, the borders were minuscule, and the experience as magical as possible. - Dave
Do you plan to release a phone with no chin sometime in the future?
The chin on our display is driven by two components: the touch IC drivers and the LEDs for the LCD backlight. We would love to ship a truly borderless display and are working on next-gen products that get us every closer to a seamless device flooded with pixels. - Dave
Will this Android O update include Project Treble?
Yes, but some of our HALs will be passthrough when we release O. We are committed to doing better and better over time, but we also want to get O to you as soon as possible. -Rebecca
Some preliminary testing here: https://forum.xda-developers.com/essential-phone/help/tmobile-signal-strength-issues-t3665999
Also reports here: https://www.reddit.com/r/essential/comments/6zbqh7/tmobile_service_issues/
and here: https://forum.xda-developers.com/essential-phone/review/cellular-strength-throughput-t3646146
As more phones get out into the world I expect more data will be available.
Thanks for the links...Will take a look and see what we can do -Joe
Is this an error that i couldn't buy from Puerto Rico from essential.com even though it's available through other channels (amazon, best buy, sprint) ? Tried to contact support but didn't get an answer.
Please PM us and we can see what we can do -Joe
What are the next series of mods you have planned to release?
As mentioned above, we have a number of Click Accessories planned. First out is a charging dock and a 3.5mm High End Audio adapter. -Joe
What's next in accessories? Stereo Speakers? Car mount? Rock tumbler?
As mentioned above, we have a number of Click Accessories planned including a dock and audio accessory. Great ideas though! question- what color would you like your rock tumbler? - Linda
How do you feel about the ways in which Android has evolved since you've left, and what other things would you like to see added with future releases?
Seems like the Android team continues to put the 1's and 0's all in the right order to to keep Android the #1 platform (what is it now 85% global marketshare?) - anon ;-)
As an OEM yourself, why is it so widespread to make phones thinner and hope for more effecient SoCs to make batteries thinner instead of making a phone thicker and give users a larger battery to work with? Will Essential continue the trend of thinner phones and smaller batteries?
What you really want is better battery life. Would like to know your use case and what you are looking for. Please PM interested in the constraints. - Joe
For Dave, Linda, and Joe:
The PH-1 has a very distinct look. How did the team come up with a design language and personality for a completely new brand? What was the process like?
Also, in your words, how would you describe the Essential industrial design language?
Thank you for doing this and best of luck! Always love seeing hardware innovation.
We developed a design language based on our top priorities- best technology, user experience, and materials. Believe me, it took MANY revisions and design iterations to get to where we are now. At the end, we worked very hard to make sure our device is designed from the inside out. We wanted to let the technology shine through and take away anything that may pose as a distraction. That's why our borders are straight and thin (more visual display) and our details are clean and minimal. It's hard to come up with a brand new design from scratch, but at the same time it's a very freeing and openly creative process that is hard to find anywhere else but here at new startup - Linda
So, ROM development. Can you commit to releasing ALL of your framework sources like Google does with AOSP and Nexus? One frustration with OnePlus is that their released sources are missing parts and thus work a lot worse than their real OS (OxygenOS).
This actually turns out to be really hard technically. We're going to try to do more and more of this over time but ensuring you separate out any close source proprietary bits from the rest, but that things still work well is a big challenge. -Rebecca
I picked my Essential phone up from Sprint yesterday and I absolutely love the device. I bought it for it's uniqueness and hope for ROM development. Will Essential be a developer friendly company and release source or will they just be another Samsung?
That's why we shipped with an unlockable bootloader! We'll be posting our kernel source and factory images to our website shortly and working on other ways to support developers. -Rebecca
Is some areas of my house I have had issues with people hearing me talk and using my Pixel XL in the same spot they can hear my just fine.
That doesn't sound like a reception issue. I've seen this on a Pixel XL. Please PM so we can help get data to help debug. - Joe
I can't speak for everyone, but on AT&T mine seems to jump bands. It will be on band 17 with great signal and then jump to band 4 which has almost no signal which makes it look like the phone has lost reception. Then it jumps back to band 17 with great signal. I have seen mine do this several times.
Band Handoff is actually controlled by the cell site. If you can PM, we can see if we can help debug what you are seeing. -Joe
When will the charger and dongle be available to purchase seperately?
Yes. The charger is one of the best USB Type-C chargers out there! We designed it to charge more than your phone. -Joe
Given that the phone is the bare essentials is there any plan to support unlocking the bootloader or rooting the phone from the manufacturer level?
You can unlock the bootloader using the directions here: https://source.android.com/source/running
Power + Volume Down to get to fastboot on your Essential Phone.
Why is the Camera icon a square in light of Android 7.1's circular icons?
Also, the Essential Phone is a bit bare on software features. Not reffering to customization just features. Any plans on adding camera launching gestures or something similar, etc.
You can double tap the power button to launch camera. We are also looking at adding some other good stuff like fingerprint gestures to pull down the notification shade. Keep your eyes out for updates! -Rebecca
My understanding was that issues with Google's cloud/services direction for Android was part of why you eventually left. Why'd you stick with it for Essential? Why not improve on the original, and use an OS pushing back towards Android's original open source vision?
The reason I left was even simpler: After doing Android for 10 years I was ready for another startup. And at Essential I'm super proud to be a customer of my previous work. - andyR
Do you think that you will be offering internships in the near future? Haven't gotten my hands on an Essential Phone yet, but looks amazing, and I have heard great things about it!
Always looking for great talent to join the team. Please check our webpage for opportunities. - Joe