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Android’s co-founder is building a new company and a new kind of smartphone

Android’s co-founder is building a new company and a new kind of smartphone


Andy Rubin reportedly working on a premium smartphone with edge-to-edge display and ceramic back

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Andy Rubin, co-founder of the Android operating system, is reportedly building out a new company and working on several new products including a premium smartphone with an edge-to-edge display “that lacks a surrounding bezel.” Bloomberg just published a story with many details on Rubin’s new company, Essential, which he’s preparing to formally announce and lead as CEO.

Essential is said to be planning several products — both in mobile and for the smart home, according to Bloomberg’s report. The highlight of these hardware efforts is a high-design smartphone meant to compete with Apple’s iPhone 7, Samsung’s Galaxy S7, the Google Pixel, and other flagship mobile devices. Rubin is aiming to launch the smartphone in mid-2017 and is already in discussions with Foxconn to manufacture it, the report claims.

The company has “at least one prototype” phone with a larger-sized display than that of the iPhone 7 Plus, but the overall size is smaller than Apple’s popular handset due to its nonexistent bezels. The design reportedly features metal edges and a ceramic back. Xiaomi utilized a ceramic back for its futuristic Mi Mix Android phone, a departure from the metal, glass, and plastic materials found in the majority of mobile devices. Essential is also “experimenting” with a 3D Touch-like feature that would allow its smartphone to detect different levels of pressure when users touch the screen.

There’s even a modular component to this thing. From Bloomberg:

Essential's engineers are developing a proprietary connector that serves double duty for charging the battery and expanding the phone's functionality over time, one person familiar with the planning said. The magnetic connector would allow Essential or even third parties to create hardware accessories that add features to the smartphone.

One of those add-ons is a 360-degree camera, the report claims.

Rubin has assembled a team of around 40 people “filled with” former employees of Apple and Alphabet, the report says. Trademarks for Essential have already been filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office. Here’s one filed in December featuring the unannounced company’s logo.

Essential’s logo, filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Essential’s logo, filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

That filing pertains to “mobile phones; smart phones; computers and tablet computers; accessories and replacement parts for all the aforementioned goods; computer operating software for mobile phones, smart phones, computers and tablet computers.” And as Bloomberg notes, Rubin’s own name is on a filing for the business in California.

Since departing Google in 2014, Rubin has made artificial intelligence a major focus. He leads Playground Global, a startup fund / tech incubator meant to bolster companies working to achieve advances in AI. "In order for AI to blossom and fulfill consumer needs, it has to be about data," he said in June. "That's where robotics come in. Robots are walking mobile sensors, who can sense their environment and interact and learn from those interactions." Bloomberg’s report doesn’t note any other specific products that Essential is currently building — only that it’s working on “a suite” of them — and that’s before Rubin has officially acknowledged any of it. 2017 is about to get very interesting.