Essential isn’t dead, not yet at least. The handset maker from Android co-founder Andy Rubin, who’s now at the center of an explosive controversy over the mishandling of sexual harassment claims at Google that prompted a worldwide employee walkout, has quietly released its next product. It’s the $149 magnetic headphone jack adapter Essential promised way back in September 2017. The company first announced in June that the accessory would start shipping in the summer, but it apparently missed that deadline.
The product is officially called the Audio Adapter HD, and it’s quite pricey at $149, which is about 30 percent of the cost of the phone itself — not counting the heavy discounts you can get at Amazon, Best Buy, and other retailers. The price seems to be both because it’s a magnetic module custom-made for the Essential Phone, and also because it supposedly supports “studio quality audio performance” and an “audiophile-grade amp that can drive audiophile-grade headphones.”
It’s not clear the accessory will be a big hit. Essential has suffered from anemic sales of its first phone, with around 90,000 units sold in the first six months. It’s since reportedly canceled plans to release a second handset, and it laid off 30 percent of its employees last month in what the company described as a “difficult decision” designed to help it “deliver a truly game changing consumer product.”
That product would appear to be an artificial intelligence-powered phone with software that automates tasks like responding to messages and booking appointments. Rubin once described the grand vision last year as “a virtual version of you,” and Bloomberg reported that the device is in active development as of October.
Rubin reportedly returned to Essential in December of last year following the first public revelations regarding sexual misconduct allegations made against him during his time at Google. It is currently unclear whether he is still running the day-to-day operations of the company following a bombshell New York Times investigation published late last month that revealed Google paid him $90 million to leave the company quietly in 2014.