The announcement that Sundar Pichai is taking over from Andy Rubin as Google’s head of Android sure came as a surprise. Pichai is a perfect candidate for the job, no doubt, but Rubin obviously did a great job growing Android from a minor mobile operating system to the powerhouse it is today. Unlike the usual corporate press releases that announce these kinds of moves, Larry Page himself made today’s announcement, which is unusual in itself, and there’s no “he wants to spend more time with his family” or a similar statement in the post. Instead, Page writes that Rubin will “start a new chapter at Google.” That next chapter for Rubin, I think, will play out in Google’s secretive X Lab skunkworks division, the birthplace of Glass and Google’s self-driving cars.
More Moonshots Please!
Why? Page writes: “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!”
The place where Google’s moonshots happen these days is the X Lab (also sometimes referred to as Google X , Project X or simply x), as the company is prone to point out lately. For Larry Page and Astro Teller, the current head of Google X, a ‘moonshot’ is a project that has the potential to make something 10x better and that’s worth investing in, even if the chance of succeeding is small.
Rubin’s background in mobile makes him a great candidate for the X Lab, which focuses heavily on wearable computing, but it’s also worth remembering that Android itself was the kind of moonshot Page loves so much. Nobody really thought Google could pull this one off and the first version were definitely still crude. The project that is going to carry this idea forward, in many ways, is Google Glass – which runs on Android. Rubin has been great at turning ideas into products and that’s something Project X could surely benefit from.
We’ve also heard some rumors that Rubin was simply ousted at Google. That is, of course, always a possibility, but it seems unlikely. It’s not Google’s style to make these kind of announcements to begin with and its unprecedented for Larry Page to write a blog post about it.
Page is also clear about the fact that Rubin will “start a new chapter at Google,” which could always be a demotion (and Marissa Mayer was also famously pushed to the sides in a similar move), but it’s not clear why Rubin would be demoted in the first place. With its high-profile I/O developer conference coming up, it’s also unlikely that Google would oust one of its main public faces just before a major event like this.
Google itself won’t comment on Rubin’s new role, so we’ll likely have to wait a bit before we get the official word (maybe in another Larry Page blog post).