Essential Home With Ambient OS Is Andy Rubin’s Answer to Amazon Echo, Google Home

The big day for Android co-founder Andy Rubin is here and his company Essential Products seems to be all geared up. Rubin created hype around its bezel-less smartphone, but Essential has more up its sleeve. Apart from the phone, the new brand has introduced the Essential Home intelligent speaker which seems to be a competitor of Google Home and Amazon Echo. The device with rounded display runs Essential’s Ambient OS. The company is yet to announce pricing and availability details for the Essential Home.

Much like other automated assistants, the new Essential Home smart speaker will allow users to ask questions, set alarm, control lights, music, and other similar functions that we can expect from Amazon Echo and Google Home. The company is stressing that the Essential Home is focused on privacy.

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“Essential Home will help with daily tasks, but it will also let you create new experiences in the home with the devices you have,” said Mara Segal, Head of Product, Home Devices in an old blog post.

The company stresses that the Ambient OS isn’t developed to manage a point-to-point interaction with individual devices but to help user with relevant context for information or managing multiple devices. “With Ambient OS, your home is the computer,” said Manuel Roman, Head of Engineering, Home Devices.

Essential Home With Ambient OS Is Andy Rubin's Answer to Amazon Echo, Google HomeThe company is also stressing that the Ambient OS is the API to user’s home that enable other applications that could extend the reach of a single device. For example, users can setup a timer and have the lights in the living room flash when it goes off. “The goal of Ambient OS is to ‘activate’ your home,” adds Roman.

For privacy, Ambient OS runs in home and tries leverage home network as much as possible. The company says that Ambient OS can help Essential Home interact with home automation devices directly without having to go to the cloud. Additionally, the OS tries to keep user data locally whenever possible giving users more control over their privacy.

We can expect to hear more details around the Essential Home and Ambient OS at Rubin’s Tuesday announcement.

Essential Phone to Get Android Updates for Two Years, Andy Rubin Confirms

Essential Phone, which garnered headlines for its attractive bezel-less design, was unveiled in June earlier this year and today, the company’s founder and Android co-creator Andy Rubin has announced that the handset is now available for purchase on the company’s own website, Sprint, and Amazon. The unlocked model of the smartphone is available for purchase at $699 (roughly Rs. 44,800) from the company’s own website.

In order to impart confidence to the Essential Phone buyers, Andy Rubin has also written a blog postwhere he has announced that the new smartphone will get guaranteed Android OS updates for 2 years and will get monthly security updates for 3 years. This brings the Essential Phone at par with Google Pixel in terms of software support and also ensures that the handset remains secure and is updated with latest features.

Rubin has also announced that the company is also planning to introduce new wireless accessories (like the snap-on 360-degree Camera) every few months. “That schedule ensures that the latest technology will always be in the palm of your hand without having to replace your phone. These accessories will also work with other products like Essential Home,” Rubin said in his post. Notably, for a limited time, the company is offering Essential Phone and Essential 360 Camera as a bundle for $749 (roughly Rs. 48,000).

Interestingly, the Essential Phone doesn’t come with any branding on it and Rubin says this is because the company belongs to the user and not to the company. “And once you turn it on, you’ll find that there are a limited number of preloaded apps and no duplicative services,” Rubin said.

Essential Phone to Get Android Updates for Two Years, Andy Rubin ConfirmsHe has also said that the 100-person team at Essential is not a weakness but rather strength as Essential will be able to focus on “customer-first experience” that takes a back seat to profit in larger companies. We will have to wait and see if the Essential Phone will be a successful first product or the company will have to struggle to find its feet in the market.

In terms of specifications, Essential Phone runs Android 7.1.1 Nougat and sports a 5.7-inch edge-to-edge QHD (1312×2560 pixels) display with unique 19:10 aspect ratio and Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection. It is powered by the 64-bit Snapdragon 835 octa-core (2.45GHz quad + 1.9GHz quad) processor with Adreno 540 GPU and 4GB RAM. Internal storage option is at 128GB.

In terms of optics, it has a 13-megapixel dual camera setup at the back with RGB and monochrome capabilities in each lens, with hybrid autofocus, phase detect, IR Laser Assist Focus, and 4K video support. At the front there is an 8-megapixel selfie sensor with f/2.2 aperture, 16:9 aspect ratio, and 4K video support here as well. The battery is at 3040mAh with fast charging support. Connectivity options include 4G LTE, Bluetooth v5.0, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC, GPS, USB Type-C port, Nano-SIM support, and GLONASS. The dimensions of the Essential Phone are at 141.5×72.2×7.8mm, and the smartphone weighs less than 185 grams.

Deep-linking startup Branch raised $60 million from Andy Rubin’s Playground Ventures

Branch, a startup making tools to enable developers to provide links between websites and apps, has raised a $60 million Series C round of funding from Andy Rubin’s Playground Ventures, according to sources.

Branch — formerly Branch Metrics — launched in 2014 to provide better analytics and improve app discovery and referral programs. It offers tools that app marketers can use to create deep links between web and app content, as well as email to app content.

It works with email campaign managers and also plugs into a number of analytics tools so marketers can test various campaigns to see which are most effective for driving downloads or even commerce in-app.

To fund the next phase of its platform evolution, Branch has raised a new round of financing from Andy Rubin’s venture fund. Rubin, who is best-known as the founder of Android, left Google in 2014 and spent some time wandering the wilderness before re-emerging with $300 million in capital to incubate and invest in startups.

While Rubin is clearly interested in hardware (and is apparently working on a new smartphone), the Playground fund isn’t solely focused on that vertical. He and his team are also interested in quantum computing, AI and machine learning, and have made a few investments in those areas.

 Branch’s tools generate a huge amount of data based on the relationships between apps and services that it has access to, which is why an investment in Branch might make sense. With this data, the company could create an index of the app ecosystem that is similar to the way that Google and other search engines indexed the Web.

When asked about the funding round by email, Branch CEO Alex Austin responded: “We’ve seen tremendous growth and adoption of deep linking over the last few years and have been fortunate enough to become the clear market leader. There’s so much more we can accomplish in deep linking and this money will be used to fund Branch’s continued platform growth.”

Prior to this financing, Branch had raised $53 million in funding, including a $35 million round led by Founders Fund just over a year ago. Other investors include New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Pear Ventures, Cowboy Ventures, Madrona Ventures, Zach Coelius and Ben Narasin.