It's all change at Google as Andy Rubin, the man who shepherded Android into becoming the world's biggest mobile operating system, is stepping down in favor of Chrome OS boss Sundar Pichai.
"Having exceeded even the crazy ambitious goals we dreamed of for Android – and with a really strong leadership team in place – Andy’s decided it’s time to hand over the reins and start a new chapter at Google. Andy, more moonshots please!" said Larry Page in a blog post.
Rubin set up Android Inc in 2003 to build a mobile operating system around open source principles but nearly went bust before Google bought in. Android went on to become the world's most common mobile OS, swallowing the bulk of Symbian users after that OS got stuck in its ways, and it now enjoys close to a million new activations a day.
Since Rubin's not leaving Google, that "new chapter" he's working on is a matter of intense speculation. Could it be that Rubin's been drafted in to make Project Glass work, or to set the standards for automatic driving? It's more likely he'll be working on the integration of Android and Chrome via apps, in this hack's opinion.
The clue's in the pick of Sundar Pichai as his replacement. Pichai has been running Google's Chrome OS – the red-headed stepchild of desktop operating systems – and will now combine the two roles into a merged position. That indicates Google's going to get busy linking in the two operating systems.
One of the first questions at the press conference to launch Chrome OS three years ago was, "When are you going to merge this with Android?" With Pichai in place, that merger looks like it's on the cards at last.
Google's not the front-runner with this. Microsoft's Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 share kernel code as well as a user interface, and Redmond is keen to see the two working much more closely so that it can translate its desktop position into the mobile world. That strategy has had limited success thus far, so can Google pull a reverse-ferret and pull Android users onto its desktop OS?
That's very unlikely in the short term, but there are many at Google who would like to see it that way, and the Chocolate Factory is an expert at playing the long game. The company has shown a willingness to use the enormous revenues generated by its ad businesses to fund plans that might not pay off for a decade or more.
If anyone's going to do it then Pichai's the perfect man. He cut his teeth with apps and Chrome OS and has dropped numerous hints about merging Android and the browser-based operating system.
Page's memo also mentions Google's efforts with the Nexus brand and Google Now, the software on Android 4.1 and above that brings extreme personalization via geolocation and habit-spotting code. The Now system is baked into Chrome OS and there is talk of making it available as an iOS and Windows 8 app.
Based on use of Google Now here at El Reg, the system could best be described as "clunky" but it works as a proof-of-concept. Rubin has the touch when it comes to software and if he puts his mind to it, Now could be a big selling point going forward.
Back when Rubin started Android, he said that he was interested in personalizing mobile devices. With him working on that, and Pichai forging one OS to rule them all – or a reasonable facsimile thereof – then Google could be about to take a big step forward in establishing itself for the future. ®