The Essential team is spending an hour today participating in a reddit AMA. Well, Andy Rubin is hosting one, but he invited a bunch of the Essential team members to join the party and answer any questions the tech community may have about the Essential Phone (our review). To help you quickly find all of the good bits of info from the conversation, we’ve done our best to summarize the highlights below.
During the chat, they covered a lot of important topics, including recent Essential Phone camera updates, the white model’s release schedule, when Android Oreo is coming, if they’ll support custom development around the phone, and what kinds of new accessories we’ll see for the PIN connector at the top of the phone. For an AMA, it was pretty action-packed.
Essential Phone camera and updates
A question asked if Essential had plans to “address the widespread criticism” of the phone’s camera, including what they plan to do to improve it? Andy Rubin responded with:
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.
So that doesn’t give us much other than the fact that they are trying to improve it. I don’t know that any of us who own the phone think the camera is acceptable just yet, but at least they have attempted to make things better.
When is Android Oreo coming?
According to Rebecca Zavin, the VP of software, the Oreo update for the Essential Phone “will be coming in the next month or two.” She also mentioned that they are considering a beta track for updates and asked people to upvote her comment in the AMA if interested. You can upvote it right here.
What about custom development support?
When asked about providing support to developers by releasing kernel sources, factory images, and SDKs for some of the modules, Zavin had this to say:
We are excited about supporting 3rd party developers. We’ll be releasing our kernel and factory images in the next few days.
Well, then, there you go developers.
On that white version
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 Evans, VP of design
What kinds of snap-on attachments will we see?
Essential actually refers to them as Click Connector accessories, but they did reveal their plans for what’s next. We should see the charging dock first, the one that was revealed with the phone back in May. After that, there is a good chance we’ll get a high end 3.5mm accessory to bring you those sweet, sweet, tunes, since the phone doesn’t have a headphone jack.
Here is one of the answers from Dave Evans, the VP of design:
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.
As for the dock, the final prototype build happens this month:
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 Tate, VP of hardware
But why no 3.5mm jack?
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 Evans
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! – Andy Rubin
On poor performance of the software, issues with missed touches, etc.
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.
Obviously, she didn’t mention the missed touch issue, but at least they’ve figured out why the phone freezes up on the regular. I’d imagine we’re going to see pretty regular software updates for a while.
What about phone cases?
As Essential Phone owners know, there aren’t really any case options out there, but Essential’s head of industrial design, Linda Jiang, said to expect some from several partners they are currently working with. Andy Rubin offered up this option.
On cell signal and signal strength issues
While I haven’t experienced any, and Essential seemed confused by suggests of issues in the thread, they did have some 1-on-1 conversations with folks. If you are experiencing signal issues, I’d suggest hitting up this thread and this one.
When is Essential Home coming?
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.
Interesting response from Rubin on phone batteries
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…
On why not all apps look pretty up top
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 Zavin
On the phone’s unique design and material choices
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 Jiang
No water resistance
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 Evans
And that’s most of the good stuff. If you to read the full AMA, hit up that link below.