When Essential announced that both its phone and Home product were coming out, it seemed like they were entering into the assistant market as a competitor. Rubin definitely has the chops to be a competitor, being the grandfather of Android.
The funding that Essential received on its own might not be enough to tip the scale for hardware development against Samsung or Apple, which have poured billions of R&D into their products. However, if they were able to take the learnings from Amazon’s Fire Phone and Echo and be able to apply them to the new products, that could be enough to jump them into the game. Also, their focus on key areas where they could excel over other (like camera) might allow them to wedge into a niche.
If Essential wholeheartedly embraces Alexa, it could help cement the assistant’s lead over Google and Apple in the ambient space. It’s likely that the hardware will be considered high end when it comes out.
Of course, Amazon’s investment could just be a way to get access to inside information on the company that it could use for its own future products or to keep this knowledge out of the hands of competitors. It’s essentially a toss up.