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Android creator’s startup raises $300 million, first smartphone due soon

Andy Rubin, who founded the smartphone startup Essential Products, was co-creator of the Android mobile operating system. (Reuters)

SAN FRANCISCO: Essential Products, the smartphone startup founded by a co-creator of the Android mobile operating system, has raised $300 million (SR1.2 billion) in new funding and signed up retailers to sell its first device, it said on Wednesday.
The $699 phone, with a titanium and ceramic case, will compete directly against new devices from Samsung and Apple this holiday season. Retailers include Best Buy, Amazon.com and carriers Sprint in the US and Telus in Canada, Essential said in a statement.
The company, founded by Andy Rubin in late 2015, said Access Technology Ventures led the funding round, which brought its total investment raised to $330 million.
Strategic investors also included Tencent Holdings, electronics contract manufacturer Foxconn and Amazon.com, which participated via its Alexa Fund. Previous investors Redpoint Ventures and Playground Global also participated.
A release date for Essential’s phone will be announced next week, President Niccolo De Masi said in an interview.
The timing and distribution of the new phone could be critical during a year with many new releases. The Essential phone will only be displayed in Sprint and Best Buy retail stores in the US, compared with the vast distribution network of the market leaders. In September, Samsung is expected to unveil its Galaxy Note 8, and Apple is expected to announce its highly anticipated 10th anniversary iPhone.
Some of the Essential phone’s features, like a detachable 360-degree camera, are also available on Samsung models, which are bulkier.
“It’s going to be extraordinarily challenging,” Bob O’Donnell of Technalysis Research said by phone. “The initial specs of the phone look good, but not necessarily unique.”

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