Welcome to the complicated world of Android, Sundar Pichai

Google's Sundar Pichai shows off the "Google experience" version of the HTC One at D11 Credit:Asa Mathat/D: All Things Digital

Google’s Sundar Pichai does not have an easy job: he’s now overseeing both of Google’s key computing projects — Android and Chrome — while attempting to convince everyone that Google won’t play favorites with its Motorola division. Clearly, however, not all Android partners are created equal.

Pichai’s appearance at D11 Thursday didn’t break a lot of new ground, save for the “pure Google” version of the HTC One handset that Pichai showed off to the crowd and the news that the curiously named Google Play Music All Access service is coming to iOS. He showed off the HTC One, curiously enough, in response to a question from All Things D’s Walt Mossberg about Google’s relationship with Android partners and specifically its relationship with Samsung, a company which dominates the Android world and which introduced a smaller version of its flagship Galaxy S 4 Thursday that Pichai claimed he first learned about on Techmeme this morning.

If that’s true, then Google certainly has different relationships with different partners. Later in the session, Pichai said he was “very excited” about what Motorola has planned over the next six months. While we first heard confirmation of the Moto X Wednesday, the remaining products in what CEO Dennis Woodside called “a portfolio of phones” Wednesday are not something widely known beyond the rumor mills.

There are a couple of interpretations here.

  1. Communication between Samsung and Google has dried up if the head of Android didn’t know (or didn’t care to know) that his most important partner was releasing a smaller version of its highest-profile phone until the rest of us did, the same day he was making a high-profile public appearance to show off a competitor-designed phone.
  2. Not only is Pichai aware of all the Android products that Motorola has planned for 2013, he’s had a chance to discuss the thinking behind the decisions made in designing the phones, even if the Android team isn’t doing anything special for Motorola, as both Pichai and Woodside insisted this week.
  3. This is probably most likely: Nothing has really changed and that Android continues to be a chaotic mess that Google makes a half-hearted attempt to stay on top of but which no one can really manage, given the sheer number of partners and devices involved. Google has certainly worked closely with Android partners in the past as they got their first phones out the door, including Samsung, HTC, and LG, so it’s not that surprising that Android leaders would have worked closely with Motorola as it reboots.

It’s an interesting time for Pichai and Android as he assumes the guiding role vacated by Android founder and longtime leader Andy Rubin, who Pichai said “stepped back” two months ago to pursue other interests at Google. There’s a lot of “co-opetition” in the Android world at the moment, and Pichai has the fun task of dealing with it.

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