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Former Android chief Andy Rubin reportedly developing flagship Android phone

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Andy Rubin, the co-creator of Android, may have resigned from Google’s mobile division way back in 2013, but that doesn’t mean he’s called it quits on mobile. According to a detailed report in Bloomberg, the software engineer-turned-entrepreneur’s new company, Essential, is preparing to launch a premium mobile that’ll take on the very best Apple, Google, Samsung, and other consumer electronics heavyweights have to offer.

Essential’s forthcoming flagship is described as featuring an “edge-to-edge” screen that lacks a surrounding bezel. At least one prototype boasts a screen “larger than the iPhone 7 Plus’ (5.5 inches),” Bloomberg reports, in addition to metal edges and a back made of ceramic that’s “more difficult to manufacture than typical smartphone materials.” And company engineers are experimenting with a touch-sensitive feature akin to Apple’s 3D Touch, which would enable the phone’s screen to sense different levels of pressure.

Like the LG G5 and Moto Z before it, the phone is rumored to support modular add-ons that’ll extend and enhance its capabilities. A proprietary magnetic connector will reportedly charge the battery and connect to third-party peripherals. And already, Essential’s engineers are reportedly working on a “sphere-shaped camera” that shoots 360-degree photographs viewable in virtual reality.

The phone’s software remains a mystery, but it could incorporate elements of artificial intelligence. “New computing platforms happen every 10-12 years,” Rubin said at Bloomberg’s Technology Conference in June. “What’s the next platform? … It’s about data and people training AI systems to learn.”

Essential’s on a tight time frame. Rubin is reportedly in talks with Apple supplier Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. — better known as Foxconn. — to begin mass production ahead of a mid-2017 launch. And he reportedly talked to smartphone mobile carriers about device at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, including several from Sprint Corp.

The company’s shooting for a price that’ll rival the iPhone 7 and Pixel ($650), but Bloomberg notes that all of the plans are still in flux.

Essentials is a relative market newcomer. It’s the product of Rubin’s startup accelerator, Playground Global, which has raised more than $300 million from investors including Hewlett-Packard Co., Google, and Foxconn. Rubin registered Essential Products Inc. with California regulators in November 2015, and in late 2016, the company was granted a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The company lists smartphones, tablets, accessories, and “computer operating software for mobile phones” among its goods and services, and it employs a veritable cornucopia of software and hardware talent. Rebecca Zavin, a former senior Google software manager, is leading the phone’s software development. Jason Keats and Joe Tate, former Apple and Qualcomm executives, respectively, have been charged with hardware design. Kelly Liang, a former business executive with Google’s experimental X lab, is overseeing the company’s business development. And Brian Wallace, a former Samsung and Magic Leap executive, is heading the company’s marketing.

Time will tell whether Rubin’s brainchild sees the light of day. But all signs point to a serious flagship smartphone contender emerging in the coming months.

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