Android VP of Product Management Hugo Barra announced yesterday that he was leaving Google. Following Android founder Andy Rubin’s transition off the team, Barra is the second major departure for Android within a period of six months.
Barra has been “the public face of Android.” As recently as a month ago, Barra was on stage in San Francisco introducing the new Nexus 7. He came to Google from Nuance and had been on the Android team for roughly three years.
Barra is going to Xiaomi, which is known as “China’s Apple.” Xiaomi makes higher-end devices that run a highly customized version of Android. Here’s Barra’s statement about the new role from Google+:
In a few weeks, I’ll be joining the Xiaomi team in China to help them expand their incredible product portfolio and business globally — as Vice President, Xiaomi Global. I’m really looking forward to this new challenge, and am particularly excited about the opportunity to continue to help drive the Android ecosystem.
The hiring of Barra for a new VP role at the Chinese device maker is smart. Barra knows Android intimately, and he’ll be a kind of global ambassador for Xiaomi as the company seeks to further expand and elevate its brand.
The company is growing fast, and China is the world’s largest Internet and mobile device market. I’m sure Barra will be amply rewarded there. Thus, there were probably a number of reasons and incentives to join the company. He may also have been seeking a new personal challenge.
Many people reading this also know something of the personal story (and unfortunate intrigue) that may or may not have played into Barra’s decision to leave Google. I’m not going to reproduce the story and claims here, however.
Android is at something of a crossroads, having established itself as the world’s dominant operating system (including the PC). Its market share globally is well over 50 percent, and its share in the Chinese market is roughly 70 percent, according to several estimates.
However, Android remains fragmented and is increasingly the target of malware. According to a recent US government study, (.pdf) 79 percent of malicious software attacks targeted Android devices (with less than 10 percent targeting iOS).
Google’s Sundar Pichai runs Android (post Rubin), and there are undoubtedly many competent people internally who can “step up” within Google to fill the hole left by Barra’s departure. It may, however, continue to be felt for some time.