Andy Rubin, the boss and creator of the dominant global smartphone operating system, has stepped down from running Android in order pursue other avenues within Google, stressing “I’m an entrepreneur at heart.” Android was bought as a start-up by Google back in 2005, with Rubin kept in charge, and he spent the next eight years getting Android to the point it’s at now. But as he has said himself, Rubin is a product development guy rather than an operations guy, and he seems to be keen to get stuck into something new, maybe at Google’s mythical X Lab together with Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who also seems to prefer inventing to running things.
In the short term this should have little bearing on Android, which after all is also looked after by the Open Handset Alliance. Rubin’s shoes are being filled by Sundar Pichai, who already runs the Chrome browser and Google Apps web applications arms of Google, so he is a steady pair of hands. But in the longer term, Rubin’s departure could well coincide with the need for Google reassess what its strategic aims are for Android. It’s got more installed base than Google could possibly have wished for, but effectively capitalising on that installed base is another matter.
Android so far has existed mainly to compete with Apple, but Chrome and Google Apps are more targeted at Microsoft products such as Internet Explorer and Office. Apple has its desktop and mobile operating systems on a convergent path, while Microsoft has made its intentions clear by shoe-horning the Metro UI on top of the latest version of Windows. Google has responded by ramping up its Chromebook operations, but it seems inevitable now that Android and Chrome OS will also merge in the not too distant future. With a unified OS across all devices - mobile, tablet, PC, TV, console, car, etc, choosing a platform looks set to be one of the biggest lifestyle choices a consumer can make. By replacing Rubin with Pichai Google is positioning itself for the next phase of the platform wars.