In a post on Google's official blog, CEO Larry Page announced that Rubin is stepping aside. "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."
Page offered no indication of what Rubin will be doing at Google from now on, beyond asking him to make "more moonshots." Google declined to elaborate.
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Sundar Pichai, senior VP of Chrome and apps, will be adding oversight of Android to his responsibilities. Google reportedly paid a significant amount in 2011 to keep Pichai from departing for a job at Twitter, so it's perhaps unsurprising that the company is giving him more to do.
Pichai takes over Google's mobile operating system at time when it's thriving. According to Page, Google now has more than 60 Android manufacturing partners, has activated 750 million devices, and has distributed more than 25 billion apps through Google Play.
However, Android's ongoing success is not assured, particularly if a hardware partner such as Samsung decides it wants more control over its fate. Samsung appears to have anticipated this concern with a reassurance of its commitment to Android at this time of transition. Samsung president and mobile chief JK Shin in a statement said, "Samsung will remain committed to the continuing success of the Android ecosystem and will work closely with Sundar Pichai. We sincerely thank Andy Rubin for his contribution and wish the best for him in his new role within Google."
IDC analyst Al Hilwa expects Pichai will face some challenges. "Android has been spectacularly successful, but the market is fluid and fast moving," he said in an email. "Other platforms can gain traction quickly if they have the right features. The key issues for Android are fragmentation, security and app quality. I would expect Sundar to work hard on the security and quality issues, though the fragmentation issue is more challenging and potentially more dangerous since anybody can fork the code and create their own divergent OS."
Pichai's oversight of both Chrome OS and Android will inevitably revive questions about whether Google intends to merge its two operating systems at some point. It's not immediately clear, however, why this would help Google, beyond reducing the sense that Google is competing against itself. An alternative scenario is that Google could eventually support Android apps in Chrome OS through its Native Client technology. This would allow Google to maintain the security benefits of Chrome OS while adding the value of access to hundreds of thousands of Android apps.
Pichai recently presided over the launch of the Chromebook Pixel, Google's first attempt to deliver high-end hardware. It might be that Page hopes Pichai will bring the quality and design sensibility of the Pixel to other Google hardware projects, such as the company's Nexus line.