Android creator unveils high-end smartphone and home assistant device that will work with Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant

Andy Rubin’s Essential Products, whose backers include Tencent and Foxconn, takes on iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S8 with US$699 handset featuring edge-to-edge screen and dual cameras

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 1:21pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:57pm

Andy Rubin, the co-creator of the Android mobile phone operating system, has launched a new company called Essential Products to sell a high-end smartphone and a home assistant device.

Essential, based in Palo Alto, California, said the new Essential Phone features an edge-to-edge screen, a titanium-and-ceramic case and dual cameras. The phone sells for US$699 and will run the Android operating system. The price pits it against high-end smartphones including Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S8.

Essential also launched a household assistant called Home that looks like an angled hockey puck with a screen. The device will compete against the Echo and Alphabet’s Google Home speaker, which are powered by the Alexa and the Google Assistant voice services respectively.

Essential confirmed the Home device would let the user choose between Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri. It was not immediately clear how Siri would be available on Essential. While Amazon and Google have released the software needed to embed their assistants on devices they do not make, Apple has not done so.

Essential declined to elaborate on how it plans to embed Siri on the device, and Apple declined to comment.

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The Essential Home takes a page from Apple’s privacy play book. Like an iPhone, the Home will do much of the processing for voice and image recognition on the device itself rather than sending data to remote servers.

The company also said the Home device would communicate with home appliances such as lights and thermostats directly over the home network, rather than sending data to remote servers. Apple’s HomeKit system takes similar approach.

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Rubin, Essential’s CEO, co-founded Android and sold it to Google in 2005. He ran Google’s mobile efforts until 2013 before a brief stint running the firm’s robotics division. He left Google in 2014 to focus on starting hardware companies.

Investors in Essential include Chinese tech company Tencent Holdings, iPhone contract manufacturer Foxconn, Redpoint Ventures and Altimeter Capital.

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Essential plans to announce a shipping date for the devices in the next few weeks. The company did not say whether it planned to sell the phone directly to customers online or in physical stores.