Andy Rubin’s Essential gains Amazon, Tencent as strategic backers – CNET

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Essential founder Andy Rubin at the Wired Business Conference this year.

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Essential, the new tech company founded by Android creator Andy Rubin, confirmed it raised $300 million in funding, with the startup gaining some very important backers.

Amazon, Tencent and Foxconn have come on as strategic investors, joining prior investors Playground, a startup accelerator co-founded by Rubin, and Redpoint, a venture capital firm, according to an Essential spokeswoman.

The company’s new $699 Essential Phone will be available “in the coming weeks,” the spokeswoman said via email, and will be sold unlocked on Amazon and Best Buy. The company has previously said its would sell its phone through Sprint in the US, Telus in Canada and on Essential.com, as well. The phone’s launch is now delayed, after Rubin first promised a June release.

essential-phone

The new Essential Phone.

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

The latest funding round, which was reported on in June but previously unconfirmed by the company, gives Essential a valuation of about $900 million to $1 billion. But, even with its expanded war chest, the company will have a difficult time trying to break into the highly competitive phone market, which is dominated by Samsung and Apple.

Rubin said his new phone could find its place by disrupting that duopoly and offering customers something different. His big idea with Essential is to make things simpler for customers. 

He wants to do away with dongles and connectors for his startup’s devices and find new ways to get different ecosystems — like iOS, Android and Alexa — to all work with his company’s operating system, Ambient OS, so all your electronics can work together.

Along with the phone, Essential is also developing a smart home hub. Amazon, which has a leading position in smart speakers with its Echo, invested in Essential via its Alexa Fund. The e-commerce giant may be interested in Essential not only for the smart home device, but also to gain a stronger foothold in phones, after it failed to break into that market with its own Fire Phone.

“Essential Products has a compelling vision and roadmap for connected devices that integrates voice technology in novel ways,” Paul Bernard, director of corporate development for the Alexa Fund, said in a statement. “We are excited to see Alexa become part of that vision where interacting with technology is simple, helpful and creates an interface that others can build on and innovate. We look forward to what will come from this collaboration.”

Access Technology Ventures, a venture-capital firm, led the latest investment round, which also included Australia’s sovereign-wealth fund and tech investors Vy Capital and Altimeter.

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