Andy Rubin has stepped down as the executive in charge of Google’s Android operating system for smartphones and tablet computers, ending a seven-year reign that reshaped the technology industry.
The unexpected change announced on Wednesday may raise new questions about Android’s direction as Google Inc duels with Apple Inc, Microsoft Corp and a host of other companies in the increasingly important mobile computing market.
Google is replacing Rubin with Sundar Pichai, an executive in charge of the company’s Chrome Web browser and operating system for lightweight laptop computers. That move may heighten recurring speculation that the Chrome operating system eventually will supplant Android. Google executives have so far only said they want to make sure the two operating systems can operate cohesively together.
In a Wednesday blog post, Google chief executive Larry Page said Rubin, 50, has reached a stage in his career where he wants to try something different after devoting so much time and energy to Android. Rubin, a longtime gadget lover who once worked at Apple, hatched Android at a startup that Google bought in 2005, when accessing the Internet from a mobile phone was still an exercise in frustration.
“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 wrote.
The company declined to disclose what Rubin’s new role will be.
Google’s stock dipped US$2.30 on Wednesday to close at US$825.31.
Although he is not well-known outside the technology industry, Rubin ranked among the most influential figures in the early stages of the smartphone’s development. Most viewed his team’s work on Android as revolutionary, although late Apple founder Steve Jobs blasted the software as a shameless rip-off of the breakthroughs that Apple made with the 2007 introduction of the iPhone. The first smartphones running on Android came out more than a year after the iPhone’s debut.
Rubin and his team built Android as a piece of “open-source” software that could be easily modified by other developers. That contrasts with the iPhone, whose software is tightly controlled by Apple. However, Rubin also created the Nexus smartphone and tablet line as a showcase for the software.
Google also has always given away Android to device makers, content to make money from the advertising that it sells on the Google services built into the software. Making the software free has spawned an array of smartphones that are more affordable than the iPhone.
To herald Rubin’s accomplishments, Page provided an update to Android’s ubiquity on Wednesday. He said the software is now running on more than 750 million smartphones and tablets throughout the world, making it the world’s most widely used mobile operating system. Through December last year, Apple had sold about 440 million iPhones and iPads since those devices were released.
Android could get another boost on Thursday with Samsung Electronics Co’s expected release of the latest smartphone in its popular Galaxy line. Galaxy smartphones run on Android.
Although he is not focused on advertising sales, Pichai’s success with the Chrome browser during the past four years has helped Google generate more revenue. Google says more than 310 million people use Chrome.