Android Head Andy Rubin Stepping Away

Chrome lead Pichai to take over Google’s mobile operating system

The head of Google’s Android mobile operating system Andy Rubin was supposed to speak during this past week’s South by Southwest Interactive conference. A few days before the scheduled appearance, Google subbed in svp of search Amit Singhal without explanation for the swap. Then came Wednesday morning when Google CEO Larry Page announced that Rubin would be stepping down from his Android post and Sundar Pichai, who oversees the company’s Chrome browser, will take over Android.

Unlike the big-name product exec departures at Apple and Microsoft late last year, Rubin isn’t leaving Google entirely. Page wrote that Rubin will “start a new chapter at Google.” Whatever that means is anyone’s guess, but the chief executive’s request—”Andy, more moonshots please!”—and the company’s repeated use of the word “moonshots” when discussing its Google Glass-producing Google X Lab during SXSW suggests he might have a hand in the division’s future bleeding-edge developments.

As for Android’s new honcho, Pichai has been svp of Chrome and Apps and has seen the browser continue to gain share, landing at 16 percent user market share in the U.S. and Canada last year, per Chitika Insights. Pichai will retain those duties in addition to adding Android, which sounds like a hectic job description but might make a lot of sense considering mobile device usage and Google’s view of mobile.

For example, people mainly use their smartphones for browsing the Web or interacting in apps. While Pichai has experience with both behaviors in the desktop world through his work with Chrome and Apps, mobile can be a different beast. However Google has spent the past few months talking about mobile as a context instead of a channel. So if Google thinks of smartphonea as just another (albeit increasingly popular) screen for someone to use the Internet and apps, then it seems right for the guy already versed in how people are doing that on desktop to figure out how to improve its translation to an on-the-go device.

Surely, Pichai is stepping into some Shaq-sized kicks in taking over Android. A year before Google acquired Rubin’s Android Inc. in 2005, Google was “building our [mobile] software pretty much device by device,” Page noted in his post. Nearly eight years since the deal, “Android is the most used mobile operating system in the world: we have 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,” said Page.