Android inventor Andy Rubin tweeted photos and videos of a new device made by his phone upstart Essential Tuesday afternoon. The new phone, code-named “Gem,” features an elongated body that looks more like a remote control than a traditional smart phone — something that Rubin called a “radically different form factor.”
The back of the phone is metallic, with a color-shift effect that Rubin teased in a video:
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Likely more consequential, the phone shown off in Rubin’s photos also features a novel user interface optimized for the elongated screen. It seems to use tile-like apps that can be stacked on top of each other:
New UI for radically different formfactor pic.twitter.com/Es8hFrTuxx
— Andy Rubin (@Arubin) October 8, 2019
Asked about the tweets, an Essential spokesperson responded with the following statement: “We’ve been working on a new device that’s now in early testing with our team outside the lab. We look forward to sharing more in the near future.”
Essential unveiled its first phone, aptly named the “Essential Phone,” in 2017. The device was positioned as a flagship Android device made by the founder of Android, complete with a modular system build for add-on extensions. At the time, Essential also announced plans to build a smart speaker called the Essential Home.
However, the Essential Phone never caught on with consumers, and the company stopped selling the device late last year. The company also never managed to produce its promised smart speaker, which has since disappeared from its website.
At one point, Bloomberg reported that Rubin was looking to sell off Essential; but now, it looks to be back in business: Rubin had been teasing a new device since this summer, and mentions of hardware code-named “Gem” were first spotted by XDA-Developers last month. Those findings suggested that the phone would be running Android 10, use a Qualcomm chipset, and support a “walkie-talkie” feature that may be connected to its fingerprint reader.
Essential also registered a trademark for “Gem” in June, suggesting that the company may actually use this name as the branding of the new device. It’s still unclear when Rubin’s company will begin selling the new device, or how the company aims to position it in the market.
Android was founded by Rubin in 2003, and acquired by Google in 2006. At the company, Rubin helped to turn Android into one of the most popular mobile operating systems of the world. He departed Google in 2014, and launched Essential out of his startup accelerator Playground Global in 2015.
Rubin’s efforts to establish Essential as a new force in the mobile device space have in part been hindered by past sexual misconduct allegations, which reportedly led to Google severing ties with the executive. However, Google still paid Rubin a reported $90 million exit package, prompting walkouts of Google employees last year.
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