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Android founder Andy Rubin stirs controversy after Essential phone tease

Rubin's tweets signaled a potential comeback for the executive, and elicited a strong reaction due to reports of his alleged sexual misconduct.


Essential Products' new handset has a new shape and sparkling colors.

Essential Prodcuts

When Essential Products CEO Andy Rubin teased a new phone on Twitter on Tuesday, the oddly thin and colorful devices weren't the sole subject of focus. Instead, many honed in on Rubin's controversial past, which included departing Google after an investigation into sexual misconduct, details of which spilled out of a New York Times story nearly a year ago. 

Android Police Editor-in-Chief David Ruddock declared on Twitter -- and then later posted on his site -- that his publication would not accept access from Essential to things like briefings or review devices, arguing that the company is so closely tied to Rubin that any discussion of the phone requires discussing his past. The reaction, smartly rounded up by Wired's Lauren Goode, helped inform her piece looking at the increasing difficulty of disassociating products and services from the flaws found in companies and their executives.

On Friday, BuzzFeed's Ryan Mac reported that Rubin had quietly tried to make a comeback, but instead has departed Playground Global, the venture firm he founded. 

Playground Global wasn't immediately available to comment. Essential declined to comment or make Rubin available for an interview. 

Rubin, credited as the father of the Android operating system that runs nearly nine out of every 10 smartphones in the world, resigned from Google after an investigation into whether he coerced an employee into oral sex in 2013, according to the Times. Fueling the outrage and controversy was the fact that he reportedly left Google with a $90 million exit package. At the time, Rubin tweeted the story contained inaccuracies and was part of a smear campaign. The Times stood by its reporting. 

The controversy over Rubin and his alleged behavior had seemed to die down. But his Tuesday tweet of a gadget that sports a shape and colors not often associated with smartphones, has reignited it. The handset, as shown in an image Rubin tweeted out, is long and slender and will apparently come in bright colors provided by what he calls "GEM Colorshift materials." It will also feature a new user interface to accommodate the "radically different form factor," Rubin said.

While the handset looks exciting, it may only create a new set of reputation-related issues for Rubin. 

The tease also comes after a credible report more than a year ago that Essential was in trouble after the startup cut about 30 percent of its staff and reportedly canceled its second phone. The company had reportedly spent over $100 million developing its first set of products, of which only the original phone and its 360-degree modular camera attachment shipped.

Originally published Oct. 8.
Update, Oct. 11: Adds background on the controversy surrounding Andy Rubin.