By now the news is everywhere. Andy Rubin is leaving Android, the project he brought with him to Google in 2004, to work in their famous Project X department (responsible for Google Glass). There are many theories as to why Andy Rubin has left the effort – some say he has been ousted, others preferring to think he’s working on the Motorola ‘X Phone’. I’m going to throw my own thoughts into the mix, because I think something different is happening that could radically affect the smartphone landscape as we know it.
To start with, let’s debunk the first idea. If Rubin had been ousted from Android, then why on earth would the blog post announcing the change come from Larry Page himself? It simply doesn’t add up. As to the second thought, I think that has a bit more weight it, but not for the reasons you might expect.
To explain this, I’m going to take you back to 2009, in the month of July. Google announced Chrome OS, a Linux-based operating system designed to be an OS for the Web. The launch of the consumer devices came and went with, well, not much incident. At that time, the web still had a long way to go before such a project was feasible for everyday use. At the same time, Android was the Google stalwart and the very notion of a potentially competitive OS from the same company was almost unthinkable – some blogs mentioned it at the time but the idea never really gained much traction.
Now, however, things have changed. The world and his wife are building with a mobile-first, offline capable approach to web design – I should know, I’m one of the people doing it! Suddenly, Chrome OS has become a lot more relevant. It still ain’t mobile friendly, though, and Android by now is in a mature enough state to provide a serious challenge to iOS, if not better it.
It’s this maturity that could prove to be Android’s downfall. It’s been said many times that Google has lost control of Android, and it’s only now that I can see this harsh reality as manufacturers still struggle to adapt (we’re looking at you, Samsung) their custom skins to the Holo UI. HTC has gone the opposite way, removing any mention of Android from the HTC One webpage apart from on the Specifications page.
Neither Chrome OS or Chromium OS (the open-source variant of Android) really caught manufacturer imagination the same way that Android did. Sure, there have been some pretty neat Chrome OS devices built (like Acer C7 which we reviewed) but, again, they aren’t exactly ubiquitous. This means that Google have pretty much full control over Chrome OS and Chromium OS, with the lauded ‘silent update’ procedure means that they can ensure that their devices are running recent versions of their software.
Anyway, back to Rubin. He’s left to start a new chapter at Google and Larry Page, the Google CEO, has called for ‘more moonshots’ – a sure sign that he’s going to Project X. What we’ve got here is someone who came to Google with an idea in 2004, and moved with more than 750 million devices running his idea. That’s pretty special and the journeys of both Android and Rubin are far from over, so why the switch?
I think that Andy Rubin is working on Chrome OS for Mobile. He knows what it takes to make an operating system successful, and this will be crucial for Chrome OS to succeed on a mobile front. At the same time, Google are redesigning their mobile web apps, with Gmail recently undergoing a lick of paint with several new features thrown into the mix. Combine this with the fact that the new Android lead is Sundar Pichai, who will be taking on the role in addition to his work at Apps and Chrome and suddenly it starts to make a bit more sense.
It’s also interesting to note that the Project X guys have said that their next ‘moonshot’ will launch in the next few weeks. What’s in 8 weeks? Google I/O. What did Larry Page say in his blog post linked above? ‘More moonshots’. It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to say that whatever Rubin will be working on may be announced at I/O, especially if it is mobile related (and let’s face it, whatever Rubin is doing will most likely be something to do with mobile).
So, where does Motorola fit into all this? Well, they are rumoured to be working on a ‘X Phone’ running Key Lime Pie (v5.0), but we haven’t seen any substantial leaks of either the phone or KLP yet. Another thing to be announced at I/O, perhaps – but what if the X Phone wasn’t running what we saw as Android at all? I have a sneaking suspicion that KLP will represent a fundamental shift in what we view as Android – or maybe the X Phone OS won’t be Android at all. Google won’t be ditching Android, far from it in fact, but I would be very surprised if they didn’t put more focus on Chrome OS and the mobile web-app.
In conclusion, then, we’ve got Andy Rubin from Android moving to Project X and the head of Chrome taking his place at Android. Project X are going to launch something cool in the near future, possibly at Google I/O, and I’d wager that Andy Rubin has something to do with it. Add that to the refreshes that Google are giving to their mobile web apps, their renewed Chrome OS push with the Chromebook Pixel, and that the web has strangely fallen silent with regards to Key Lime Pie leaks – I think that I could be on to something here.
I’d be interested to hear what you think about this – am I barking up the wrong tree or do you think I have a point? Let me know in the comments or on the social network of your choice – I’m most active on Twitter (@mightyshakerjnr).