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August 18, 2017

David is going to be in Aspen for the Technology Policy Institute's annual conference starting on Sunday and would love to say hello to any Login readers who are there (send him an email at [email protected]). You can also catch him moderating a conversation on Tuesday morning with Newseum CEO Jeffrey Herbst.

Essential faces uphill battle in crowded phone market

In building Essential Products, Andy Rubin insists he isn't trying to build a phone company, but rather a new consumer electronics brand.

Starting with a smartphone, Rubin says, lets Essential kickstart the business by starting with a well understood and huge category.

But, in starting there, Essential is diving into a brutally competitive and demanding market, meaning that a lot of energy is going to be going in that direction.

  • As I mention in the review below, the Essential Phone is a beautiful (if slightly bulky) device. But at its heart it is yet another high-end Android phone in a world with plenty of options.
  • The company has a second product, a home hub. Essential still hopes to have it out this year, but isn't committing to a time frame.
  • Speaking to reporters this week, Rubin and president Niccolo De Masi stressed the benefits of being small, noting that the company is able to use materials that might not be possible if the company were making millions and millions of phones.
  • But having just 100 employees is also a huge challenge when trying to handle things like manufacturing, customer support and all of the other things that come with selling hardware.
  • Essential has already seen it: the phone has taken longer to bring to market than Rubin had hoped, and is initially shipping only in black and is not yet plentiful enough for Sprint to do a full retail launch.

Déjà vu?: It's something Rubin should remember from his first phone startup — Danger. Its Sidekick was way ahead of its time, but the company had a tough time iterating as much of its time and energy was taken servicing the existing product. That said, Rubin has a decade and a half more experience and tons more funding this time around, having recently closed a $300 million round.

Axios Review: Andy Rubin's phone is gorgeous, not essential

Andy Rubin's new smartphone is a beautiful piece of hardware, but at its core is essentially yet another high-end Android phone. Nearly everything that makes it special is on the outside: its titanium and ceramic casing, the wraparound-the-selfie-cam screen and its iconic, if a bit thick, shape.

Who it's good for: The Essential Phone is great if you are looking for a phone that looks a little different, is a bit of a conversation piece, or want to support the company's aim of building a new kind of hardware company.

Who it's not: Those looking for the thinnest phone will need to look elsewhere, as might the risk averse, since buying the Essential phone means betting on a startup (albeit a well-heeled one with a highly-regarded founder).

The practicalities: The phone is available unlocked for all four major carriers from Essential's Web site and Best Buy for $699. If you want to buy it at a carrier store, your only option is Sprint, though the No. 4 carrier is offering it on lease at a significant discount.

One important caveat: I haven't yet gotten to test the 360-degree camera attachment, one of the things designed to make it stand out from other phones on the market. I have played around with the latest Moto Z and a similar attachment. Making 360-degree capture mainstream is a lofty goal and the arrival of more such cameras will eventually make such images and videos far more useful. But for today it's probably not a game changer.

The company hopes to have additional add-ons at the rate of about one per quarter, but even larger companies have struggled with this approach.

The walls are closing in on big tech

Once treated with kid gloves as the goose that laid the golden egg, Big Tech is coming under regulatory scrutiny from all sides of the political aisle.

In particular, Google, Facebook and Amazon are feeling the heat over both their size and their increasing influence in society. Whether it's Donald Trump criticizing Amazon for hurting small business or people on the left saying that Facebook and Google need to do more to fight hate and "fake news," the volume of criticism has certainly been heating up.

The bottom line: Though it's mostly rhetoric rather than action at the moment, that could change quickly in the current political environment.

Go deeper: David has a look at some of the key emerging fights and it's definitely worth reading the full piece.

NBC is getting a big audience for its Snapchat show

In less than a month, over 29 million viewers have watched "Stay Tuned," NBC News' daily Snapchat Discover show, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

That's a big deal for both Snapchat and NBC. Here's what it shows:

  • Millennials will actually watch the news: Getting nearly 30 million young people to watch a hard news show is an enormous feat, given that millennials don't typically watch TV news show on cable. (The average cable news viewer is over 60 years old.)
  • Video news is going mobile: Snapchat uses its own measurement techniques that are different from television ratings (they measure a view as a video being opened), so a direct comparison cannot be made to TV, but the success of "Stay Tuned," combined with the success of Snapchat's original political newscast "Good Luck America," demonstrate a major shift in how TV news will transition to mobile in the digital age.
  • Snapchat can be more than just a place for Kardashian selfie videos: The success of "Stay Tuned" speaks to Snapchat's ability to successfully serve hard news content to its millennial audience, not just tabloid gossip and reality TV.
  • It's an example of NBC's digital investments paying off. The network hired a 30-person, standalone staff to produce the show to reach younger audiences, and it's working. It's part of its larger goal to expand its digital footprint and extend its reporting on more platforms. In June, NBC News launched "Left Field," a new digital video journalism unit following a site-wide redesign.

Disclosure: NBC parent company Comcast is an investor in Axios.

Take Note

On Tap: It's National Mail Order Catalog Day, though not sure how long that will go on.

Trading Places: GitHub CEO Chris Wanstrath plans to cede that post once a successor is found and become executive chairman. ... Twitter's Jeffrey Graham is headed to BlackRock.

ICYMI: Apple is adding a feature in iOS11 that lets iPhone owners more easily turn off the Touch ID fingerprint sensor by clicking the power button five times; that's important with court rulings that have held people can be compelled to physically unlock devices with biometric sensors. .. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick filed his reply to a lawsuit from Benchmark, saying the case should be handled through arbitration. ... Gab, a social network that has been banned from the major App Stores has raised $1 million in crowdfunding. ... After seeing execs bail on two other advisory bodies, the Trump Administration has pulled the plug on its Infrastructure Council, which was to have tech execs among its members.

After you Login

I got a pitch yesterday with the subject line "We Have the Attention Spans of a Goldfish:"

That's as far as I got.

But if you have a juicy news tip, I promise to read it all the way through. I'm [email protected] or just hit reply.