In March, Google announced that Sundar Pichai would be taking over its Android division, effective immediately. Pichai replaced Andy Rubin, who is now working on other projects within Google. And up until a few days ago, Pichai had remained rather quiet in his new role.
But the 40-year-old graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology and Stanford has finally revealed his plans about the future of Android in an exclusive interview with Wired. Find out what’s in store for the world’s most popular mobile operating system ahead.
Although he has taken over Android, Pichai remains the head of Google’s Chrome division, and the latter platform doesn’t appear that it will be going away anytime soon. Pichai compares it to the likes of iOS and OS X.
Now that you’re in this new position, have your views evolved in terms of the coexistence of Chrome and Android?
I don’t think my views have changed much. Android and Chrome are both large, open platforms, growing very fast. I think that they will play a strong role, not merely exist. I see this as part of friendly innovation and choice for both users and developers.
But can’t it be confusing having two operating systems?
Users care about applications and services they use, not operating systems. Very few people will ask you, “Hey, how come MacBooks are on Mac OS-X and iPhone and iPad are on iOS? Why is this?” They think of Apple as iTunes, iCloud, iPhoto. Developers are people, too. They want to write applications one time, but they also want choice.
Pichai is excited about emerging markets, especially because technology has yet to reach the hands of billions of people worldwide. The executive is excited about that prospect, and believes that Android could be an effective solution to getting computing devices into the developing world.
As Android’s new head, what do you see as the biggest challenge?
First let me talk about the opportunities. The scale and scope is even bigger than what I had internalized. The momentum — in terms of new phones and new tablets — is breathtaking. I see huge opportunity, because it is just shocking how much of the world doesn’t have access to computing. In his book Eric [Schmidt] talks about the next 5 billion [the people on earth who aren’t connected to the internet who soon will be]. That’s genuinely true and it excites me. One of the great things about an open system like Android is it addresses all ends of the spectrum. Getting great low-cost computing devices at scale to the developing world is especially meaningful to me.
The executive touches on Facebook Home and the openness of Android, which is quite the opposite of iOS.
What does that mean when a company like Facebook comes out with Home, which changes that experience?
It’s exciting that Facebook thought of Android first in this case. Android was intended to be very customizable. And we welcome innovations. As for the specific product, my personal take on it is that time will tell. To Mark [Zuckerberg], people are the center of everything. I take a slightly different approach. I think life is multifaceted: people are a huge part of it, but not the center and be-all of everything.
Some people worry that Google might respond to Facebook Home by blocking this kind of approach in a future release.
We want to be a very, very open platform, but we want a way by which end users are getting a good experience overall. We have to figure out a way to rationalize things, and do it so that it makes sense for users and developers. There’s always a balance there. It’s no different from the kind of decisions that Facebook has to make about its own platform. But right now, we don’t plan to make any changes — we are excited they’ve done good work.
He also talks about Samsung and Motorola as Android partners, and what that means for Google.
Is it a problem for Google that Samsung is so dominant, and makes almost all the money on the platform?
I realize this gets played up in the press a lot. Samsung is a great partner to work with. We work with them on pretty much almost all our important products. Here’s my Samsung Galaxy S4. [Pichai holds up the phone.]
How’s that eye-tracking thing working out?
I actually never used it. Look, Samsung plays a critical role in helping Android be successful. To ship great experiences, you need hardware and software together. The relationship is very strong on a day-to-day basis and on a tactical basis. So I’m not that concerned. Historically the industry has had long stable structures. Look at Microsoft and Intel. They were very codependent on one another, but it served both of them well. When I look at where computing needs to go, we need innovation in displays, in batteries. Samsung is a world leader in those technologies.
One benefit of Samsung being so dominant is that you don’t hear much concern that Google might show favoritism to Motorola, which it now owns.
For the purposes of the Android ecosystem, Motorola is [just another] partner.
We’ll be seeing more Nexus and Chromebook hardware from Google.
What’s the future of Google-branded hardware?
You will see a continuation of what we have tried to do with Nexus and Chromebooks. Any hardware projects we do will be to push the ecosystem forward.
As you would expect, a question that pits Android against Apple. In particular, revenue models.
In terms of numbers, Android sells more than Apple, but Apple makes more money from its platform. Is your mandate to generate more revenue from Android?
We’re very comfortable with our business model. All our core services–Search YouTube, Maps, etc.– are used on phones, and Android helps people to use those services. So fundamentally there’s a business model there. And services, like Google Play, are obviously a source of revenue. We saw payouts to developers on Play quadruple in 2012. I think we are barely beginning to get started. We’re in the early beginnings of a sea change in computing. Think about education and enterprise — incredible opportunities. We’re much more focused now on the consumer end of the experience, but we think the right things will happen from a business sense.
Pichai addresses the need for a more streamlined process for Android updates across devices and carriers.
A lot of people have complained about Android’s update process. How does Google make sure that people will get updated with the latest version?
We are thinking about how to make Android handle updates better. We see ways we can do this. It’s early days. We’re talking with our partners and working our way through it. We need time to figure out the mechanics, but it’s definitely an area of focus for me and for the team.
The full-length interview is worth giving a read at the source article, as there is a wealth of information provided in addition to the more interesting questions we have summarized above. Google I/O commences in just two days, and we’ll get a further glimpse at the future of Android and Chrome OS at the developer conference. What are you hoping to see from Android in the future?