Andy Rubin, the father of the Android, the most widely used mobile operating system in the world, has stepped down as the head of Google's mobile group apparently to pursue as-yet-unknown new ventures within the company.
"Andy's decided it's time to hand over the reins and start a new chapter at Google," CEO Larry Page wrote in the company's official blog on March 13, calling on Rubin to deliver "more moonshots, please!"
Rubin's arrival at Google in 2005 allowed the company to jump-start its mobile software development efforts because he brought with him Android, a mobile operating system that was based on open standards and built with open-source software components. Android's open-source roots also made it easier to enable the operating system to run on many different mobile devices and simplified application development for these devices.
Before Rubin arrived with Android, it was "extremely painful developing services for mobile devices. We had a closet full of more than 100 phones and were building our software pretty much device by device. It was nearly impossible for us to make truly great mobile experiences," Page wrote.
When Rubin first started talking about development of an open-source mobile operating system, "most people thought he was nuts," Page observed. In those days, the leaders in the mobile phone industry were Nokia, Motorola and Research In Motion. All these companies relied on proprietary operating systems so they completely controlled both the hardware and software development environments for their products.
But the introduction of Android has allowed many companies, including PC manufacturers, to get into the mobile device business. After nearly a decade of development, Android is not only the most-used mobile operating system in the world, but Google has built a "global partnership of over 60 manufacturers; more than 750 million devices have been activated globally; and 25 billion apps have now been downloaded from Google Play," Page observed.
Another veteran product development manager, Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Chrome, Google Apps and Android, will become the new head of the Android mobile group, according to Page's blog. Pichai is credited with building up both Google Apps and the Chrome browser.
"Sundar has a talent for creating products that are technically excellent yet easy to use—and he loves a big bet. Take Chrome, for example. 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," Page observed.
Rubin's next move "is anyone's guess, but Larry Page's crack about wanting 'more moonshots' suggests that his next stop may be the Google X development lab. That would be entirely appropriate and a great plum for a guy whose matchmaking skills helped make Google and Android the global powers they are today," Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, wrote in an email to eWEEK.
King called Rubin's move a "milestone executive change" that comes after immense achievements.
He noted that the move comes after Android had surpassed iOS as the world's most broadly deployed mobile OS, with more than 750 million devices sold to date and over 25 billion apps downloaded from the Google Play Store. "In other words, enough successful milestones have recently occurred to make the move a happy one," King wrote.
The appointment of Pichai to head the mobile group also makes sense, King wrote. "It seems appropriate that management of Android be turned over to a device/application-savvy exec like Sundar Pichai."
A change from Rubin to Pichai possibly "signals a shift in Android's highly tuned focus on developers toward a more Google-centric view of the market. That doesn't mean that developers will be slighted in any way. But as Google continues to move into device development and sales, the company will need to change the way it thinks about and approaches commercial markets and competitors," King wrote.