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Google's Mobile Chief Andy Rubin on the Google Phone & the Androidification of Everything

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Andy Rubin’s business card identifies him as the Vice President of Engineering at Google (s GOOG). In reality, he’s the Mountain View, Calif.-based search engine’s mobile chief. From the time Google snapped up his tiny startup, Android, to today, when it officially launched the first Google Phone, Rubin (and his partner Rich Miner) have been behind virtually every mobile move made by the company.

And until very recently, Rubin had maintained that Google wasn’t going to make a Google Phone. So when news of the Nexus One first broke, I was flabbergasted that after all the denials it was actually doing so. To that end, I asked him: How is Google suddenly in the hardware business?

“Google isn’t building hardware,” Rubin said. He noted how Apple’s (s aapl) iPhone typically carries the tag “Designed in California,” which explicitly points to that company’s hardware roots. Not so with Google. “We are not designers and there are no hardware or industrial designers on my team,” said Rubin. Instead they leave it to companies such as HTC, which has made the Nexus One.

More Google Phones to Come

“For the first time, we’re issuing purchasing orders to the manufacturers so we are now their customers,” he added, “which means we can now have more influence on the device.” That influence is quite visible in the Nexus One, as I point out in my review. And Rubin said Google is working with manufacturers in addition to HTC that also want to benefit from the sales push on Google’s web site.

Andy Rubin with Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha at Mobilize 09

Those words won’t placate some of the company’s partners, which according to my sources are livid at Google’s decision to promote the HTC-built device, which works with T-Mobile USA’s 3G network. Motorola (s MOT) and Verizon (s VZ) , which have collectively spent close to $100 million promoting the Android-based Droid, are said to be particularly miffed at this decision to launch the Google Phone. One look at the Nexus One and no one in their right mind would even consider the Droid. More importantly, imagine competing with the company that makes the OS itself.

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“People shouldn’t focus too much on the device (Nexus One),” said Rubin. “What’s more important is the strategy behind the devices.” Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing, Google is simply “going straight to the Google customers,” he said. He believes that such a strategy could fundamentally change the way people buy cell phones — in other words, over the web. Already, as he pointed out, people are buying devices (and gadgets) online.

The way I see it, Google has a couple of major problems: It’s facing a splintering of the Android experience, thanks to the growing number of user experience efforts such as HTC’s Sense. And in order to quickly get traction in the marketplace, Google needs to attract more developers. To overcome these challenges, the company needs to seed the market with what it feels is the device that best showcases Android’s capabilities.

150,000 True Fans

Rubin hopes his company can sell, at the very least, 150,000 Nexus One devices. Why? “Because if there are that many devices out there, you are likely to run into someone with a device somewhere,” he reasoned. To be clear, that number is only applicable to the U.S., even though the device will be available in the UK, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Google won’t have any trouble selling that many devices. There are more than enough fanatical users of the company’s services, such as Gmail and Google Maps, to make that happen. The Nexus One and subsequent Google Phones will continue to be tightly integrated with Google’s services.

Cell Phone As a Platform

When I asked Rubin about some of the shortcomings of the Nexus One and of the Android platform in general, he was candid in admitting that there was still work to be done. “We could have easily seeded the developers with this new device with a higher-resolution screen, but we decided to wait till the announcement was made,” he said. Now that the device has been launched, Google, he said, was looking to aggressively woo developers. Expect it to make some major announcements on that front soon.

The world has changed, Rubin argued. Up until now, the software inside the phone and the web were two different entities living in two different worlds. What Android represents is the ethos of the web brought to the cell phone world. “As a company we iterate a lot and now you have a cell-phone platform that you can quickly iterate upon,” said Rubin. “When were you able to do that on Symbian?” Ouch! (Related: Symbian Executive Rips Into Google’s Android.)

I think that’s what makes Android such as interesting platform, as I explained in my essay, The Androidification of Everything. When I asked Rubin where Android could show up next, he said it could be anywhere — from set-top boxes to large-screen devices, even desktop PCs.

Related Research: Google’s Mobile Strategy

39 Responses to “Google's Mobile Chief Andy Rubin on the Google Phone & the Androidification of Everything”

  1. The Droid has a keyboard, the Nexus One does not. They’re different devices for different consumers and a different platform is fair game. I doubt that if Google had a phone partner that would push this phone the way they want that they would be selling this phone. Google didn’t want to sell phones – they want phone owners to have an open phone that works well on the web so they can publish their apps without hindrance from Apple and people can browse the web with a real browser – and so see the adds that they sell. That this phone is going to make them $billions is just a happy coincidence of its disruptive technology nature – which is largely the point. This phone needs a Google that’s not chained to the existing ecosystem to cast off the chains of that history – that’s something incumbent phone sellers won’t do that puts the whole thing over the cusp from niche to meme. They’re going to sell a grip of these things. People are already reselling them on Ebay and Amazon right now to folks in countries that can’t buy them direct yet for up to $1000, and it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the people buying them are reselling them again locally at a fine margin. It turns out that GSM is like 80% of the world phone marke – surprise, surprise. 150,000 units? That’s funny. They’re probably almost to that already. They’ll probably do that in Oz before it’s even released there. Next week we’ll probably start hearing about how the phone is on back order but they’re ramping production as fast as they can.

    Google is pushing progress. We want progress. We want phones that allow us to do new and different stuff. We don’t want phones that do Excel and Outlook but crash all the time, that are locked down by the cellular carriers, that tell us what types of media we can play and what types we can’t, that disallow tethering or flash or whatever. It’s not about the widget – it’s about the ways that the widget enables and empowers the individual to do what he wants to do: the opportunities it enables, the potentials it creates – and how as much as possible it stays out of the way!

    Now if they’ll add a Tegra 2 or Snapdragon slate to their lineup, that would be very nice. A ten incher that does webcam chat over wifi please.

  2. NQ Logic

    Google is moving down in the stack to challenge B2C opponents with an open architecture and new sets of standards. In creating a post-revenue business model, Google can only manage success if consumers accept a co-branding and outsourced manufactured device … NQ Logic recommends reading about the rest of the new Google’s mobile strategy at

  3. I’m concerned about why editorial allowed this writer to touch this content at all and then after seeing, it allowed it to be published.
    First, as several have said the Droid is a keyboard phone with a fundamentally different customer base to the touchscreen-only Nexus One. This underlines how little the author knows about phones at all.
    Second the author clearly knows nothing about smartphone OS’s and their history, not to mention consumer electronics in general. Nokia has for years released its own Symbian devices while selling the OS to the like of Samsung and Sony Ericsson. Before that Palm did so with Handspring and Sony. Sony itself had a long and lucrative run of selling Mindisc players while licencsing the ATRAC compression technology and hardware to the likes of Panasonic, Sharp, Kenwood and many others.

    Most interestingly all those companies, charged money to the customers they were competing with. In contrast any company using an Android phone is getting a FREE operating system.and a cutting edge one at that. When you understand how much it costs to develop a smartphone OS and generate critical mass for it, ie attract developers to make the applications that pull in consumers, the value of what Google is giving this guys is astronomical. A company like Motorola is dead in the water if it drops Android. What is it going to use – and outdated Symbian or Windows Mobile. And BTW if it buys Maemo or Web OS then it is PAYING to compete with Nokia or Palm, whereas it gets Android for free.
    So please enough with the hysteria. There is no contradiction here whatsoever in what Google is doing. Articles like this just underline how many “journalists” we have out there today who need to be kicked back to remedial or stick to writing amateur blos. You cant just churn out junk like this and slap it on a website that purports to be a professional tech news provider. Go and learn about the sector you are writing in. And then come back when you are ready for the big leagues.
    Ditto to editorial – if you can’t sport huge lumps of coal like this one, you really need to ask yourself some hard questions about whether you are qualified to for the job of filtering the junk out. Content like this is NOT going to help your long term chances of building a service that people will pay for.

    • Grover Saunders

      “I’m concerned about why editorial allowed this writer to touch this content at all and then after seeing, it allowed it to be published.”

      Take a look at the name of the writer. Then very slowly look at the name of the website. Now think for a few minutes.


      Now smack yourself on the forehead for making yourself look really foolish before you’ve even started making your points (which seem to contradict each other anyway).

  4. chris funck

    This phone costs only $220 in material cost, with no marketing and advertising costs associated, a cool $250 goes to Google, so where does this lead us to ? revolutionary product that would change phone supply chain dynamics or evolutionary product that would be forray of google into e commerce ?

    Watch out guys, this product is more threat to Amazon etal than Verizon, not to mention that Cell phone network is going to be more of dumb pipe anyway (parallel effort to release white spectrum by google), no wonder Apple is not loosing sleep and will never be.

    Google just diversified into new business, Eric surely bettered Bill by learning from MS entry into Console, just that google spun a web around people to think something when the intent is clearly something else.

    Well done google, I just brought your share with long term goal, let the dust settle.

    • I would bet most of these “$250” (I doubt the number) are going to HTC. Google have no interest to upset manufacturers… more devices to offer = more users = more ads served = profit !

  5. Phil McTimoney

    “One look at the Nexus One and no one in their right mind would even consider the Droid.”

    I disagree (but I may be a biased Droid owner!).

    There’s a match on Android versions, the Nexus hardware seems incremental, and Droid is on a better network. I wouldn’t leave Verizon to get a Nexus when there’s the Droid available on the Red.