Amazon backs Rubin’s Essential

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on August 11, 2017.
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HONG KONG: Amazon.com Inc has joined Tencent Holdings Ltd and the main assembler of iPhones in backing Essential Products Inc, the start-up co-founded by Android-creator Andy Rubin that’s getting ready to sell a new smartphone.

China’s largest social media company and Foxconn Technology Group took part in a US$300 million (RM1.29 billion) funding round for Essential alongside Amazon’s Alexa Fund and Access Technology Ventures, the VC firm said in a statement. Other backers included Redpoint Ventures, Altimeter Capital and Vy Capital. Access said it contributed about US$100 million to the pot.

Rubin’s Essential is looking to break into the increasingly competitive field of consumer electronics. The start-up, which emerged from an incubator he formed after leaving Google in 2014, is said to be valued at US$900 million to US$1 billion and represents his return to a market now crowded with a raft of Chinese players going after leaders Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co.

Its first two products will be a high-end smartphone and an Amazon Echo-like gadget for the home.

“We are in full mass production, ramping up to deliver your Essential Phone,” Rubin, who ran Google’s Android unit for nearly a decade, said in a tweet. “Find out where you can get yours next week!”

The Essential handset, a potential rival to the iPhone and Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S8, includes modern smartphone technologies from a Qualcomm Inc processor to a USB-C port for charging. But it also includes a magnetic connector on the back to connect to accessories such as a camera that takes 360-degree photos and a wireless charging hub. Without the attachment, the phone has an eight-megapixel camera on the front and a 13-megapixel sensor on the rear, according to Essential’s website. — Bloomberg