Android creator Andy Rubin is working on an AI phone that can text for you

October 11, 2018

Photo: AFP

Andy Rubin, the man who created Android, is working on something big. His company, Essential Products Inc, is putting most projects aside to focus on the development of a new kind of phone that will try to mimic the user and automatically respond to messages on their behalf, reported Bloomberg.

The company paused development of a planned home speaker, months after canceling a different smartphone that had been in the works, said people familiar with the plans, who asked not to be identified because the details are private. Sales of an earlier phone were disappointing and the company is abandoning the effort partly because the product is too similar to others on the market. Essential had considered selling itself this year after a series of setbacks.

The design of the new mobile device isn’t like a standard smartphone. It would have a small screen and require users to interact mainly using voice commands, in concert with Essential’s artificial-intelligence software.

The idea is for the product to book appointments or respond to emails and text messages on its own. Users would also be able to make phone calls from the planned device.

Rubin wants to capture people’s imagination with a product that’s truly different from alternatives. The planned device, which hasn’t been previously reported, could be Essential’s last hope to break into a market dominated by Apple and Samsung. A spokeswoman for Essential declined to comment.

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In an interview with Bloomberg last year, Rubin suggested a benevolent incentive for embarking on a project along these lines. “If I can get to the point where your phone is a virtual version of you, you can be off enjoying your life, having that dinner, without touching your phone, and you can trust your phone to do things on your behalf,” he said. “I think I can solve part of the addictive behavior.”

Although novel, the concept faces many practical challenges. People who have spent any time talking to Siri or Alexa know the limits of virtual assistants. As a result, Essential expects to market the product as a complement to people’s smartphones or as a phone for those who want to spend less time tethered to their screens.

Essential is backed by about $300 million, making it Silicon Valley’s most ambitious consumer-electronics upstart in years. The Palo Alto, California-based company started selling a product called the Essential Phone last year, to great fanfare for pioneering an edge-to-edge design before the iPhone X. Since the release of the first Essential Phone and Apple’s premium product, many phone makers have followed. But the Essential Phone struggled to sell due to its relatively high price and software bugs.