Innovation

Essential Home smart home hub: The smart person's guide

Android founder Andy Rubin wants to unify the IoT world with a platform-neutral smart home hub. Here's what we know about it so far.

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Image: Essential

Android Inc. cofounder Andy Rubin's company Essential made headlines with his recently revealed Essential Phone. The announcement about the Essential Home, Essential's smart home hub, has received a bit less coverage.

The Essential Home is a smart speaker being marketed as being the platform-neutral hub the market has been waiting for. It's powered by its own OS that isn't an Amazon, Google, or Apple property, and the phrase "plays well with others" is prominently featured on Essential's site.

It's clear who Essential views as competition to the Essential Home. But what's at the heart of the product itself?

TechRepublic's smart person's guide about the Essential Home is a quick introduction to this product, as well as a "living" resource that will be updated periodically as news about it is released.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's smart person's guides

Executive summary

  • What is Essential Home? Essential Home is a smart home hub designed to be the control center for all your IoT devices. It uses Essential's own proprietary Ambient OS, which isn't just voice activated—it has a touchscreen, too.
  • Why does Essential Home matter? The Essential Home has several features other smart home hubs are lacking, including the ability to automatically connect to other IoT devices on a network. If the promises are more than just hype, Essential Home could quickly become a leader in the smart home hub market.
  • Who does Essential Home affect? Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, and Google Home owners will find Essential Home's promised features to be tempting, as will those who don't have either device—its advertised ease of setup makes Essential Home an appealing choice for anyone who has wanted to get into the smart home world but has been intimidated by the current options.
  • When is Essential Home available? While it was revealed alongside the Essential Phone in May 2017, Essential Home has yet to be given a release date or price. You'll have to stay tuned to TechRepublic or Essential's website for that info.

SEE: Ebook—Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (TechRepublic)

What is Essential Home?

Essential Home, like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, is a smart speaker and control hub for IoT devices. Unlike its competitors (with the exception of the Echo Show) Essential Home has a touchscreen and is designed to be interacted with using voice, touch, and sight.

Essential Home is powered by Essential's Ambient OS, which the company says "will introduce itself" to other IoT devices on its network and automatically set up connections with them.

Essential is basically trying to redesign the smart home hub not in terms of function or usability, but in terms of how it interacts with the rest of your tech ecosystem.

Beyond that, however, not much is actually known about the product. Rubin's ambitious project still lacks technical specs, pricing, and a release date, leaving us to simply speculate about those important details for Essential Home.

Additional resources

Why does Essential Home matter?

Silicon Valley veterans know how hard it is to get lightning to strike twice, and that's just what Rubin is trying to do by following up his Android success with Essential. That doesn't mean Essential Home is just a moonshot though—it has the potential to seriously change the smart home environment if it can do what the company is promising.

SEE: CNET's Smart Home coverage (CNET)

What really makes Essential Home unique is twofold: It's platform-neutral, and it can supposedly connect to other IoT devices without any user interaction. There's no way that Amazon, Google, or Apple can change that first point in their favor, but the second is likely only a matter of time for Essential's competitors.

Essential Home has the potential to capture a strong position in the smart home hub market if those two qualities stay unique and are both a benefit—it's entirely possible that being platform-neutral could restrict Essential Home if Google, Apple, or Amazon manage to sign exclusivity deals with other manufacturers.

Additional resources

Who does Essential Home affect?

IoT devotees are sure to find Essential Home's promises alluring. We all want technology that "just works," as evidenced by the success of such a marketing angle for Apple over the past decade.

The only thing that will likely prevent current Amazon, Google, or Apple users from abandoning their smart home hubs is ecosystem investment. Essential Home's platform neutrality may be tempting to those users, but it's those who have yet to invest in the IoT who will really find Essential Home of interest.

SEE: Download: How we learned to talk to computers, and how they learned to answer back (TechRepublic)

Developers will be affected by Essential Home as well. An open SDK will be available for Ambient OS so developers can "develop new functionality and radically extend Essential Home's capabilities." What those functions and abilities are remains a mystery for now, though.

Additional resources

When is Essential Home available?

Essential Home was announced on May 30, 2017 along with the Essential Phone. It still hasn't been given a release date aside from "late 2017."

It's worth noting that Rubin said Essential Phone would be shipping 30 days from the announcement date. That would put its release date at June 29, but the phone has yet to ship.

Plans that ambitious, and coming from the founder of Android no less, set a strong tone for the company. Missing that deadline could erode trust, and with Essential Home still waiting in the wings potential buyers may become uneasy.

Additional resources

About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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