Android operating system creator Andy Rubin has been busy since he left Alphabet's (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Report Google two years ago to start his new company Essential. On Tuesday, he revealed what he's been working on: a new Android smartphone known as the Essential Phone PH-1.
The new $699 phone features an edge-to-edge display, Qualcomm's (QCOM) - Get QUALCOMM Incorporated Report Snapdragon 835 processor and 128GB of internal storage. The device also features what's billed as "one of the world's best phone cameras," including a 13-megapixel dual-camera system on the back, and an eight-megapixel camera on the front. The phone lacks a headphone jack, like the iPhone 7 from Apple (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. (AAPL) Report . The phone comes in four colors: black moon, stellar grey, pure white and ocean depths and is currently available for preorder in the U.S. only.
The smartphone is made of titanium, rather than aluminum, because it doesn't scratch, dent or bend. In tests, Essential dropped an aluminum and titanium phone on solid concrete, showing that the titanium phone didn't scratch while the aluminum one did.
In an interview at the Recode tech conference streamed online, Rubin described the phone as a "phablet in a phone form-factor." Rubin was cagy about how many devices would need to be sold to be considered a success, notwithstanding repeated questions about the challenges of breaking the Apple/Samsung duopoly in smartphones. He said the company has raised tens of millions in venture funding to support the project. (The full interview can be seen here.)
Users can also attach accessories such as a 360-degree camera to the Essential Phone with a simple click. The company says it's trying to make additional dongles, chargers and accessories a thing of the past. The Essential, for example, can be charged simply by placing it on its docking station. The camera accessory clicks onto the phone when you line it up with the two holes on the back of the phone and doesn't need to be aimed at any specific object since it captures everything at once.
The Essential lacks a logo, which the company said is intentional. "Just because we played a part in making it doesn't mean you should be forced to advertise that fact to everyone in your life," the company explains.
In the past, Rubin has referred to the new phone as an iPhone killer, according to the Daily Mail. Apple is expected to release its 10th-anniversary edition of the iPhone this September. Analysts have high hopes for the new iPhone, with some predicting it will result in an iPhone 8 supercycle. Like the new phone from Essential, the iPhone 8 is expected to have edge-to-edge display and wireless charging, but unlike Rubin's phone, it is not expected to be made of titanium or to have clip-on accessories.
But the cool specs of this new Android phone probably aren't enough to trump the iPhone, according to Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics. Essential also needs the distribution and marketing capabilities to compete with Apple. "The sad truth is having an awesome phone isn't enough to be successful," he said. "So calling it an 'iPhone killer' is an exaggeration."
In the past, companies like LG (LGEAF) were known to have phones as good or better than Samsung (SSNLF) or Apple but they couldn't win because they didn't have the marketing or distribution that Samsung and Apple had, Entner explained. "Will the Essential sell a couple thousand? Yes. But millions? I don't know."
Foxconn (FXCOF) is talking to Essential about manufacturing the new phones, the Daily Mail reported. But the real issue is finding someone to fund the global manufacturing and distribution of the phone, Entner said. While Rubin could try to partner with his old company, Google, other Android players won't be happy to see the Essential Phone getting preferential treatment.
In January, Essential was boasting a 40-person team working on combining artificial intelligence with hardware, including a smartphone and home devices, Bloomberg reported. Employees were recruited from top tier companies, including Apple and Google.
Rubin first joined Google in 2003 after selling Android to the company. During the next eight years, he helped turn Android into the world's largest operating system. In 2013, he left the Android team to start Google's robotics unit before leaving in 2014 and founding venture fund and design studio Playground Global. Finally, in November 2015, he registered Essential Products Inc. with California regulators and in late 2016, he registered "Essential" with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
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(This story has been updated with new information.)