OSOM: The team behind the Essential PH-1 is back, and their focus is privacy
Jason Keats, a now-defunct key member of the Essentials company, has returned, and his goal is privacy. Jack Wallen interviews OSOM founder and CEO to learn more.
I well remember the Essential PH-1 - for a while, it was my favorite Android phone. It had a style unlike any other device to use Google's mobile OS. It was built as a tank, elegant, and unique.
It was also a device backed by a terrific camera. However, I used it proudly because no other phone said "class" very similar to the PH - 1.
Then, as soon as it came into being, the company behind PH-1 died. No more updates, no more promises of unique devices - it was just gone. That act did not go unnoticed, given the problems surrounding the phone. Even still, it stopped a bit. To this day, that phone remains one of my favorites.
Imagine how I felt when it was reported that the team behind the Essential PH-1 was getting back together.
Well, some of them.
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Essential founder Andy Rubin will not be present, but Jason Rats' head of R&D will be on board. What does Keats have on his back? In his last ventures with Essential - a product, called Gem, that he never started - Keats realized that there was a particular need for privacy on mobile devices. To that end, the new company Keats OSOM, which does not yet have an active website (the osom.design link provides ERR_CONNECTION_CLOSED error), aims to bring a complete set of products to market.
OSOM stands for Out of Sight Out of Mind. The focus of the new company is not to recreate the PH-1 or any of the essential tools that have never been completed. What OSOM plans to release is a complete mystery.
However, OSOM's goal is very clear: Give users control over their data. This goal will be achieved through a combination of hardware and software.
I reached out to Keats, the founder and CEO of OSOM, to ask him a few questions that I thought might shed some light on what the company had in store. Here's how it went.
Jack Wallen: How do you plan to control data back to users, especially with apps / sites like Facebook that are very skeptical about not letting users know who will be use their information?
Jason Keats: For us, it's about choice. Right now, you don’t have much of one. We, as consumers, accept it as the norm. There are so many examples of people's privacy being sold and compromised, and we do not (and will not) make money from human data. Of course, it's your own digital thing, companies should not own it, and the fact that you are currently paying those companies to evaluate your data is wrong.
Jack Wallen: While you may not be updating the results left by Essential, are there parts of the PH-1 that you could borrow, and are there lessons to be learned from its failure?
Jason Keats: We built amazing products at Essential, but only one of them came to market. We installed one phone and several utilities, but there were software glitches. Unfortunately, none of the other amazing and unique results we developed saw the light of day. But the team was great, and with Essential coming to an end, I knew there was a huge untapped potential. This team has a long history of designing, engineering, mass-producing and selling millions of machines.
Jack Wallen: Will you be making a new phone and will it be based on Android? If so, will you be using the full Google stack?
Jason Keats: We are not ready at this point to respond directly to what we are building, however, the OSOM software team was solely responsible for the Day 1 regular security update at Essential.
Jack Wallen: Will these tools focus on privacy or a combination of privacy, security and usability? If so, how do you combine these three ideas together to create something that consumers want?
Jason Keats: Privacy is our main focus - hardware, software and services. We know that people care that their privacy is being monitored, but at the moment a user does not have a good knowledge to solve it.
Jack Wallen: It's like you might not just be targeting consumer smartphones. If not, what else? Are we talking records? IoT? Margin? Something in between?
Jason Keats: We build a number of hardware and software products and are in partnership with the best vendors in the world. While we are not ready to divulge details, there is a huge lack of emphasis on privacy in the tech sector today.
Jack Wallen: Can you give me an idea of release date, price point, and specs?
Jason Keats: Our first product will be launched in 2022, and details will be announced when it is ready.
Effectively, we get the unanswered answer. In other words, we do not have a clear idea of what OSOM is doing, but the work ahead is a monument. With companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Twitter in a perpetual state of monitoring our information against us for profit, it seems like an almost inevitable goal. These companies have a significant stranglehold over that data and do not show that they are leaking.
We all use applications that collect information from us and the operating systems that host those applications are not (or cannot be) sufficient for our protection. These companies do not respect the privacy of our users and the platforms we use to access their services are at their mercy.
With that in mind, I can only guess what OSOM intends to do. Perhaps a version of Android that works with VPNs and anonymously to deliver a platform that prevents the transmission and saving of user data, served on hardware with camera and mic killing switches? A solution like this would be a hard sell to the average consumer who would prefer the convenience of true privacy and security.
If OSOM hopes to succeed, no matter what they deliver, consumers cannot be involved. Customers want a product that they do not get access to using the apps and services they rely on, even when those apps and services are monitoring and sharing their data.
Or, maybe OSOM is going the bigger picture path and thinking beyond mobile devices. The truth is, only time will tell, but until Keats and company let us finally reveal their secrets, we just have to measure.
OSOM's goal is to provide privacy to the user as a high, long and hard mountain to climb. We hope the OSOM team is up to the challenge.
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