An apparent prototype smart speaker from defunct smartphone manufacturer Essential has popped up in an eBay listing spotted by a keen-eyed Redditor. It offers a tantalizing glimpse at what the ambitious-yet-unreleased “Essential Home” device could have been and seems to be partially functional. The listing’s photos show the device’s circular screen illuminated, with elements like its lock screen and settings menus visible. The seller is asking for $900 plus shipping for the prototype.
If you have no memory of the Essential Home then we wouldn’t blame you. The smart speaker was announced in May 2017 alongside the Essential Phone, and the company told Wired that it hoped to ship both later that summer. The phone would eventually release in August, but the smart speaker was nowhere to be found. Essential would eventually shut down in early 2020 after releasing just the one product.
When it was announced, the Essential Home was meant to bring every disparate smart home ecosystem together under a single umbrella; a not dissimilar promise to what Matter is aiming to do now. It would support touch and voice controls and could be woken with a glance. Setting timers, controlling your music, and responding to general interest questions were all mentioned as potential features.
The key to a lot of this functionality was a mysterious new operating system, called Ambient OS, that would be able to bridge different smart home systems and process all its data locally rather than offloading it to the cloud. But the eBay listing’s photos suggest that the smart speaker is actually running some form of Android, which implies that “Ambient OS” may have been at best a fork, or else simply a glorified Android skin.
It’s unclear how functional this prototype is or whether a determined developer could coax anything out of it. But it looks like a neat hint at what could have become of Essential, a company with so much hype that, at one time, it was valued at over a billion dollars before it even shipped its first and last phone.