RIP Android: Visionary Leader Rubin Leaves Android Project

by Matt Klassen on March 19, 2013

Andy Rubin, the chief architect behind the dominance of Android, stepped down from the mobile OS project last week, raising questions about the future of one of the tech world’s greatest minds and the future of the Android project as a whole. The company promptly announced Rubin’s replacement, Chrome executive Sundar Pichai, with company CEO Larry Page stating in a blog post that Rubin’s expertise will be used elsewhere, hopefully with similar results.

You certainly don’t need me to tell you what Rubin was able to accomplish during his tenure as head of Google’s Android division, taking a relatively unknown open source platform and turning it into a global consumer hit. It’s certainly not a stretch to say that Rubin was Google’s Steve Jobs, the mastermind behind understanding how to take complex technology and make it consumer friendly.

But there are some that see this change in leadership as anything but a mutual break, arguing that internal tension between Android and Google’s Chrome division was the impetus for this change, and that Rubin was kindly asked to step down (i.e. fired) so that Google could resolve this conflict and create a more cohesive mobile strategy. Now the question remains, can Android survive without Rubin?

I have to wonder if Pichai contacted Apple CEO Tim Cook the day the former was appointed to oversee Google’s Android division, asking for advice on how to be the follow-up act to a true technological visionary (and I’m sure Cook would have said, “I really have no idea.”), as it certainly can’t be easy to assume control of a project that was created and grown into a monumental success by a true leader.

But as many wonder why Rubin would relinquish control of the platform he ostensibly created, perhaps we need to look no further than the fact that Android had become to big for Google to control, the strength of the operating system allowing Rubin to dictate the direction of Google’s overall mobile strategy, something the higher-ups likely didn’t like.

“You had this Chrome OS and this Android Group that were building in many overlapping products,” explains Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner. “For Google, it’s not about the platform, but the ecosystem,” Gartenberg continued. “They’re more concerned long-term about Google Docs, Google Voice, Google Books, and less about helping Samsung sell more phones.”

While the break was apparently mutual enough to motivate Page to state that other opportunities await Rubin within the Google camp, I’ll certainly be interested to see if the Android wunderkind remains with the company.

True motivations aside, however, as I gaze into my crystal ball this move strikes me as the second misstep that will eventually lead to my long predicted demise of the Android platform. With Google finally recognizing the threat its Android partner Samsung is starting to pose in the mobile market, the first domino has fallen: Google is losing control of the Android ecosystem.

Now with the removal/departure of Rubin the second domino has followed suit, as the Android that once was will likely cease to exist, the search engine giant clearly interested in merging it with its Chrome platform in some manner. While a cohesive mobile strategy may serve Google well in the short term, there’s nothing that says Google will be able to parlay this shift into continued global mobile dominance, meaning that Android may in fact be a casualty of corporate cohesiveness.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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