The future of Android without Andy Rubin points to convergence

Android without Andy Rubin
Rubin's robot OS has gone mainstream; time to move on

You don't have to wait for a puff of white smoke to find out who Google's next Android chief will be. Sundar Pichai, the company's senior vice president of Chrome and Apps, will assume this position, replacing Andy Rubin.

The Android shuffle (not yet a YouTube dance craze) was a surprise today and could have a major impact on the future of the world's No. 1 mobile operating system.

On the one hand, Rubin, a former Apple engineer and co-founder of the once-popular Danger Hiptop handset (known as the T-Mobile Sidekick in the U.S.), has a legacy of bringing devices to life.

On the other, Pichai's has had a history of convergence - taking software and refining it to the point of success.

He started at Google right around the time Rubin was pitching Android, Inc. to the search engine's co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and he has gone on to innovate well-known Google software.

The Chrome browser, Chrome OS, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive and Google Apps all have Pichai's name attached to them.

Pichai's Chrome-plated success

There's no better example of Pichai's success than the Chrome browser, of which Google CEO Larry Page said, "In 2008, people asked whether the world really needed another browser."

"Today Chrome has hundreds of millions of happy users and is growing fast thanks to its speed, simplicity and security. So while Andy's a really hard act to follow, I know Sundar will do a tremendous job doubling down on Android as we work to push the ecosystem forward."

Pushing the ecosystem forward could mean the merger of the Android mobile OS and the Chrome OS, a long-held speculation by analysts in the past.

The fact that Pichai is keeping his "Chrome and Apps" duties in addition to taking on the new Android position further backs up that rumor.

The public will get a sense of whether or not that is true in May at the Google I/O conference, where the next iteration of the mobile OS, Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie, is expected to be unveiled.

Motorola in the mix?

Google, in addition to converging its operating system software, may take further steps to invest in its own Android hardware.

After all, the company has yet to do anything meaningful besides horde patents with its year-and-a-half old USD$12.5 billion (£7.5 billion) Motorola acquisition.

Perhaps that Motorola X smartphone, headlined with the current rumors specs of a 16 megapixel camera, is due to be unveiled along with Key Lime Pie.

Three quarters of a billion sold

The success that Pichai has had in developing the Google Chrome browser could help the company continue its Android dominance in the smartphone marketplace.

Google updated its metrics today, tallying up 750 million Android activations since the mobile OS made its debut in 2008.

It also reported 1.5 million new activations per day, which should help push them over Google chairman Eric Schmidt's prediction of more than a billion Android activations in 2013.

Andy Rubin's new role at Google

Page indicated that Rubin is still working at Google, but in some other capacity than the Android division for the first time since Google bought Android, Inc. in 2005.

"Andy's decided it's time to hand over the reins and start a new chapter at Google," Page said in his blog post today. "Andy, more moonshots please!"

The "moonshots" reference could refer to Rubin taking a position within the Google X lab, which is noted for experimental projects.

The mysterious line of Google X lab projects are said to include Project Glass and the Google driverless car.

What Rubin works on next at Google remains a mystery, but it's clear that he took Android from its own experimental stages to the point where it's now mainstream.

At an impressive 75 percent market share, Google's mobile operating system will have to keep innovating under Pichai to retain that dominance.

Matt Swider