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Essential, led by Android founder Andy Rubin, is shutting down

Rubin has been mired in controversy since he was accused of sexual misconduct while he was an executive at Google.

The Essential Phone PH-1 was released in 2017.
Sean Hollister/CNET

Essential Products, the mobile-hardware startup founded by Android creator Andy Rubin, is ceasing operations and shutting down, the company said Wednesday. 

The startup debuted to much fanfare in 2017, when Rubin announced the Essential Phone. The hardware company was seen as the former Google executive's follow-up act to Android in the mobile-device market. The company was once valued at $1 billion and raised $330 million in outside funding. 

Essential Products released a premium smartphone in 2017, but it failed to gain traction among buyers. Essential teased a second phone, called Project Gem, in 2019, but it never made it to market. 

"Despite our best efforts, we've now taken Gem as far as we can and regrettably have no clear path to deliver it to customers," a company blog post read. "Given this, we have made the difficult decision to cease operations and shutdown Essential."

Essential declined to comment beyond the blog post.

Rubin has been mired in controversy for the last two years, after a New York Times report on sexual misconduct allegations against Rubin while he was at Google. The search giant reportedly gave him a $90 million exit package and kept quiet about the accusations. Rubin has denied the claims. The report spurred a worldwide walkout at Google in November 2018, when more than 20,000 workers marched out of their offices to protest Google management's handling of the accusations.  

Rubin's scandals also affected Essential's reputation in the media. When Rubin teased the Gem devices on Twitter in October, the announcement sparked a debate about tech founders and the ability to dissociate their personal lives from their products. 

David Ruddock, Editor-in-Chief of the blog Android police, said that his publication would not accept access from Essential to things like briefings or review devices, arguing that the company is so closely tied to Rubin that any discussion of the phone requires discussing his past. Wired's Lauren Goode expanded on that stance, arguing that it's "getting harder to look at consumer products and their pretty packages without thinking about the people making them, and the power behind them."