Opinion: How essential is the ‘Essential Phone’?

Posted on Sep 27 2017 - 8:00am by Andrew Wildman

Earlier this year, the creator of the Android operating system released his first Android phone. A major reason he did this was in the hopes that he could help break up the Apple-Samsung duopoly of the cell phone market.

The question is: Can he really do that?

When he dreamed up the Android operating system, the idea was that there would be dozens, if not hundreds, of small companies making phones all on the same playing field. The Android team made one gross underestimation: the popularity of the iPhone.

As soon as the iPhone started to gain traction, the Android market became flooded with iPhone impersonators. The best of these copycats was Samsung. Samsung ripped off the design of the iPhone so closely that Apple ended up suing Samsung over copyright infringement.

This lawsuit did nothing to slow down the growth rate of Samsung. The Android phone that best impersonated the iPhone came to dominate the Android marketplace.

So what does this mean for Andy Rubin, the creator of the Android OS? It means he doesn’t stand a chance. Rubin’s new phone is called the Essential Phone, and I am fairly sure many people have never heard of it.

Very few people know much about phones that aren’t made by Apple or Samsung. Consumers just don’t care about other brands. This isn’t always because other companies’ phones aren’t as good as Apple’s or Samsung’s. Many times, the smaller companies are able to do more innovative things with their phones and present ones that are on par with, if not better than, Apple’s and Samsung’s offerings.

The reason consumers don’t care is because there is a general apathy toward technology. Members of the general public don’t care what companies are doing on the bleeding edge of tech. They only care about what Apple and Samsung are doing.

Apathy is a dangerous thing. This is especially important when it comes to world-dominating corporations like Apple and Samsung. When we just take what these companies give and are OK with it, that’s how monopolies form.

An example of this comes from the late 1990s when Microsoft went through anti-trust proceedings. In the ’90s, Microsoft became the default operating system for many Americans. This wasn’t the problem though — the monopoly allegations came because they started bundling Internet Explorer with Windows.

Consumers just started going with what Microsoft gave them. Soon, Internet Explorer became the most used internet browser in the world. By people just taking what Microsoft gave them, the market for internet browsers shrank from many down to basically one for several years.

In this case, consumer apathy effectively killed the market for browsers. We are dangerously close to doing the same thing with the cellphone market.

Again, will Andy Rubin’s phone succeed in the current smartphone market? No. Does this make his phone any less important? No.

The important part of his phone is not that it has the best specs, a good camera or a revolutionary display. The important part of his phone is that Rubin recognizes the disparity in the phone market and wants to correct it.

Andrew Wildman is a sophomore integrated marketing communications major from Laurel.