Android founder Andy Rubin’s smartphone project was handed a lifeline on Wednesday, as Amazon and Tencent invested $300 million.
Rubin’s Essential phone, which hopes to be the new iPhone challenger in the saturated smartphone market, will be available in Best Buy and Amazon when it launches, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The funding news was a much-needed breath of fresh air for the still-mysterious startup. In June, Essential announced it will be exclusively carried on Sprint, the nation’s fourth largest mobile network, bucking the conventional wisdom that partnering with Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile is the only way to break into the smartphone market.
The Essential Phone, which was announced in May, has generated buzz for its minimalist style, robust hardware and unique features. The phone is nearly bezel-less, meaning the screen covers almost the entire front side of the phone. It also comes with a magnetic connector in the back, which can wirelessly charge the phone and attach a 360-degree, fish-eye lens camera accessory.
When the $699 phone will drop remains unclear. Essential President Niccolo De Masi told the Journal the launch date was “a few weeks away.”
Rubin also tweeted on Wednesday afternoon that Essential was “in full mass production.”
We are in full mass production, ramping up to deliver your Essential Phone. Find out where you can get yours next week! #thisisessential pic.twitter.com/CYrhTMSt1g
— Andy Rubin (@Arubin) August 9, 2017
Both Amazon and Tencent, a Chinese mobile internet giant, have built smartphones which failed to generate popularity. Amazon launched the Fire phone in 2014 and discontinued it the next year; Tencent partnered with smartphone maker Huawei in 2010 to create a model of their own but failed to generate any traction.
Rubin, a celebrity figure in Silicon Valley for his creation of the Android platform, has raised $300 million already, and Essential was valued at almost $1 billion in June.
The Palo Alto-based company, however, could not close a $100 million investment deal from the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank in March, despite Rubin’s reportedly close friendship with SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son.
Two months prior, Apple invested $1 billion into SoftBank’s technology fund.
Rubin stated at Essential’s launch in May that he wanted to create a timeless Android smartphone untethered from bloatware.
“For all the good Android has done to help bring technology to nearly everyone it has also helped create this weird new world where people are forced to fight with the very technology that was supposed to simplify their lives,” wrote Rubin. “Was this what we had intended? Was this the best we could do?”
Photo: The 360-degree, fish-eye camera connects to the Essential phone through its magnetic connector in the back. (Courtesy Essential)
Tags: amazon, Apple, Essential, Tencent