Andy Rubin, who has lead Google’s Android operating system efforts, will now be replaced by Sundar Pichai. Google says the move today will leave Rubin time to work on a “new chapter” with the company.
Google shared the news on its official blog today, saying:
Andy’s decided it’s time to hand over the reins and start a new chapter at Google. Andy, more moonshots please!
Going forward, Sundar Pichai will lead Android, in addition to his existing work with Chrome and Apps. Sundar has a talent for creating products that are technically excellent yet easy to use—and he loves a big bet.
One Mystery Solved: Reason For Move Still Unclear
This helps clear up the mystery about why Rubin suddenly was dropped from doing a keynote at the SXSW conference on Sunday. He was quietly replaced at the last minute by Google search chief Amit Singhal.
As for why Rubin is moving off Android, that really isn’t clear. Perhaps it is that Rubin is looking for a new challenge, especially when Android has done so well.
It wouldn’t be the first time for such a change. Vic Gundotra used to lead Google’s mobile efforts until switching to head up its social efforts in 2011. It was a move that came even as Android was enjoying growing success.
It could have been that Gundotra wanted new challenges; it also could have been that there just wasn’t room for what seemed like two heads of Android, Rubin and Gundotra.
Android Vs. Chrome OS
That leads to a potential similar conflict with Rubin and Pichai. Both have headed up what seem to be rival operating systems: Rubin on Android, Pichai on Chrome OS. Many have questioned why Google needs two operating systems, with Chrome OS often being suggested as the loser.
Google has kind of weakly suggested that Android was somehow the operating system for “touch” in the past, which made little sense given that non-touch Google TV runs Android. That became weaker with the recent launch of the Chromebook Pixel — a high-end, touchscreen Chrome OS laptop.
The launch of the Chromebook Pixel gave, in my view, new life to the Chromebook project. Suddenly, it had a Google-branded machine to help push that operating system similar to how the Nexus line has helped Google push Android.
It perhaps was also a harbinger that Google has decided it makes sense to have both operating systems under one head — Pichai — who’s been with Google longer than Rubin.
Google The First To Unify Mobile & Desktop OS?
As for the supposed oddity of Google having two operating systems, that’s really not weird. Indeed, it’s exactly the same situation with Apple: iOS versus MacOS. But you rarely hear anyone question the wisdom of that. It’s even better than the situation with Microsoft, which has Windows, Windows RT and Windows Phone.
As I explained briefly last month, I think Apple escapes the criticism because MacOS and iOS do very unique things. iOS is really designed for a mobile environment, where tasks are app-based, whereas MacOS works well for those with full-fledged computers.
In contrast, Chrome OS is more like a subset of Android. If you have Chrome on Android, you can do largely all that a Chromebook allows, coupled with specific apps. In other words, you could use Android to build a laptop, and it probably wouldn’t feel that much different from a Chromebook.
That’s a rough generality. Chromebooks, of course, have their own Chrome apps that can run. And there may be logic in having one single operating system that does it all, even for Apple. Perhaps Google is sensing this and making the shift to somehow unite these two by starting with putting them under one leader.
Time will tell, as will the inevitable leaks. Keep an eye here on Techmeme, where further news is sure to emerge.
Postscript: The Wall Street Journal has a copy of an email Rubin sent to Android partners where he suggests he’s moving on because he likes new challenges, that he’s an “entrepreneur at heart.” Some of the letter:
Today, the success of Android combined with the strength of our management team, gives me the confidence to step away from Android and hand over the reins. Going forward, Sundar Pichai will lead Android, in addition to his existing work with Chrome and Apps. Hiroshi Lockheimer — who many of you already know well — plus the rest of the Android leadership team will work closely with all of our partners to advance Android and prepare the platform for new products and services yet to be imagined.
As for me, I am an entrepreneur at heart and now is the right time for me to start a new chapter within Google. I am amazed by what we have accomplished from those early days (not so long ago!), and remain passionate about the power of a simple idea and a shared goal — an open source platform freely available to everyone — to transform computing for people everywhere.