Newly appointed head of Google's Android division Sundar Pichai - who perhaps not-so-incidentally also leads the Chrome OS team - recently sat down with Wired for his first interview since Andy Rubin's departure. Though he didn't speak to specifics about any mysterious Motorola smartphone or Chromebook Pixel follow-up, Pichai did shed some light on the state of Android, Google's open-source philosophy, and future projects.
When asked if separate operating systems - Chrome OS and Android, for instance - confuse users, Pichai said the OS is less important than the apps, ecosystem, and backend people rely on. He also emphasized that developers, concerned about distributing their products on particular platforms, appreciate the flexibility multiple operating systems provide.
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. [...] I see this as part of friendly innovation and choice for both users and developers.
On the Android side of things, Pichai said he's unconcerned about much of what are perceived as Android's problems. He believes Facebook Home - which some view as a Trojan Horse of sorts, a hijack of Android designed to funnel all user interaction into Facebook - is a unique and welcome addition to the Play Store, because of its people-centered approach smartphone usage. He did emphasize, however, that UI consistency is paramount; deviating too far from Android design language, he implied, would be looked down upon.
It’s exciting that Facebook thought of Android first in this case. Android was intended to be very customizable. And we welcome innovations. [...] [But] in the end, we have to provide a consistent experience. But if this is what users want, I think Facebook will be able to do it.
Concerning the more drastic changes to Android companies like Amazon have been making, Pichai wasn't worried; that's the kind of modification open-source allows, he said. And when asked about Samsung's dominance in the Android smartphone market, he likened Google's relationship with the Samsung to Microsoft's partnerships with Intel. Both companies benefit in symbiosis, he said, each providing technology that advances the other.
Under the rules of the license, Amazon can [fork Android]. In general, we at Google would love everyone to work on one version of Android, because I think it benefits everyone better. But this is not the kind of stuff we’re trying to prevent.
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.
Pichai spoke broadly about Google's open-source approach to software. One of the great things about Android, he said, was that it simultaneously democratized computing, opening the door to low-cost mobile devices in developing countries, and provided an excellent high-end user experience.
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.
Going forward, Pichai wants to focus on intelligent, predictive computing like Google Now.
Computing is going through a once in a lifetime explosion. Our opportunity is making sure that this works well for people and solves important problems for them. For example, you are going to have computing which can potentially warn you before you have a heart attack.
Just to tease us, Pichai mentioned a "secret project" he contributes to on a daily basis. One that requires travel. Unconventional travel.
I have a secret project which adds four hours every day to the 24 hours we have. There’s a bit of time travel involved.
The interview's arguably a bit light on substance - you won't find any juicy bits of info here - but it still gives an idea of what direction Android will head under Sundar Pichai's lead. I'm optimistic.