This is the new Ambient OS, Essential’s big bet to control your home

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It’s a huge morning of news from Andy Rubin’s Essential: a new Android phone with a unique edge-to-edge display, a modular accessory system, a new 360 camera for that system, and a new intelligent speaker with a huge circular display.

But the biggest news of all might be the OS that runs on that speaker. Essential is calling it Ambient OS, and says that the goal is to “activate” your home by understanding the physical layout of your home, its occupants, and the various services and devices available to them. Ambient calls this “activating” your home, and says the Ambient OS is an “API” to all those things in combinations, allowing new kinds of applications to exist on top of them — like flashing your lights when a timer goes off.

If you’re thinking that that basically sounds like a supercharged version of IFTTT, well, you’re not wrong. But the difference here is that Essential is promising to run all this logic on the Essential Home device itself, protecting your privacy and data by forgoing the cloud whenever possible. According to Essential, Ambient OS will control devices directly over the local network when it can, instead of talking to cloud APIs, and it stores all user data locally when it can.

What’s more, Essential says that Ambient OS will only “suggest” smart home actions and let users decide whether to enable them, rather than doing new things as it learns and anticipates what you might want.

In terms of design, all we really know right now is what we can get from screenshots of the Essential Home, which is designed around a voice interface but adds another circular home screen and some pop-up alerts that tell you when to leave the house in order to make meetings on time.

And… that’s all Essential is saying right now. It’s a new OS for a new device, and mostly what we’re being shown right now are renders and marketing copy. But the core idea is centralizing control of every other smart device in your home and building new kinds of interactions out of them. It’s not a totally new idea by any means, but the thinking appears to be far bigger than platforms like SmartThings or Works With Nest — just what you’d expect from Andy Rubin.

Andy Rubin will be onstage tonight at the Code Conference. You can watch it live starting at 6PM PT / 9PM ET.

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