Andy Rubin is stepping down as head of Google’s Android division, according to the company.
“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,” Google CEO Larry Page wrote in a March 13 note on Google’s official blog. “Going forward, Sundar Pichai will lead Android, in addition to his existing work with Chrome and Apps.”
If Rubin had any other reasons for departing, the blog posting left them unexplained. Android has been activated on 750 million devices around the world, according to Google, on top of some 25 billion apps downloaded from the Google Play storefront; if Rubin’s departing after nearly a decade of working on the operating system for Google, then he can certainly do so with chin held high.
But it remains to be seen whether “start a new chapter at Google” is some sort of polite corporate euphemism for Rubin’s eventual departure from the company, or if he really is taking over another project or division. Page suggested in his blog posting that Pichai “will do a tremendous job doubling down on Android as we work to push the ecosystem forward,” which doesn’t offer a lot about the operating system’s future direction: Pichai does have direct control over three core platforms, raising the possibility that Google could try and exploit further crossovers between the three. But what form that will take is anyone’s guess.
Rubin’s sudden departure from Google’s Android unit also goes a long way toward (possibly) explaining his unexpected absence at a South-by-Southwest keynote panel over the weekend, where Google search executive Amit Singhal replaced him.
According to recent data from ABI Research, Android will account for 58 percent of the total apps downloaded in 2013, ahead of Apple’s iOS at 33 percent. Other research firms have reported similar numbers—Strategy Analytics estimated Android’s market-share in 2012 at 68.4 percent, with iOS a distant second at 19.4 percent. But even if Android enjoys the lead in the mobile-device space, it faces the inevitable challenges in facing down iOS and a host of upstarts. Pichai has his task cut out for him.