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.


Kyle Wiggers
Kyle Wiggers is an avid writer, web designer, podcaster, and video producer with an acute interest in all things technology. When not reviewing or commentating on gadgets, apps, and videos, he enjoys reading New Yorker feature articles, tinkering with computers, and playing the occasional game of Rock Me Archimedes.

  • http://twitter.com/samhorne Samuel Horne

    I am somewhat disappointed that they want I/O to be just for developers. Product announcements are a big deal, and I hope they don't start dialing that down. Especially since I enjoy watching I/O so much. Also, Android will have it's big software update in October/November time I reckon.

    • skitchbeatz

      I think *focusing* on developers isn't a bad thing. There will definitely be stuff there for consumers though. At this point we really have nothing else to do but wait.

    • http://twitter.com/naysayer1111 naysayer

      You can be pretty sure that we'll see a unified messaging solution. I think that's a big improvement on the current situation.

    • Drew M

      It's a developer conference...the focus should be on helping developers improve their work. New Nexus devices and Android versions should be launched with events specifically for that purpose. I think this makes more sense, especially since developers are increasingly having trouble getting tickets.

    • Angel Penabad

      The I/O is an event mainly for developers, altought you might think the opposite watching the Keynote (and even in the keynote you'll hear google staff thanking developers every 5 minutes). But that's a good thing too, because developers are the ones that made android so great and evolve so fast.

  • Sean Lumly

    If nothing else, I really appreciate that Android project-leads have a long-term vision. This is precisely what Microsoft lacks, and as a result are in a perpetual state of playing catch-up.

  • ssj4Gogeta

    Sundar Pichai:

    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.


    Just to tease us, Pichai mentioned a "secret project" he contributes to on a weekly basis. One that requires travel.

    I think the author really misunderstood that. It was probably a joke.
    That, or the crazy scientists at Google X Lab are really working on a time machine.

    • http://androidpolice.com/ Kyle Wiggers

      That I did. I guess that's what I get for skimming. I'll get right on it.

    • RitishOemraw

      What he means is that android 5.0 will feature a clock app that goes up to 28 hours a day! (meaning, kids will have to wait longer before they are mature....mature people will age slower and people the world over will still have to little time to sleep when it comes to workday mornings)

    • Angel Penabad

      That time machine would explain why December disappeared on android 4.2. Doh'

      Just 2 days guys!!

    • Pierre Gardin

      He contributes on a weekly basis to a project that will help people save time every day.

      "weekly" applies to his contribution, "every day" to the time saved.

      It couldn't be clearer.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marcusleejh Marcus Lee

    Introducing... Google Time Travel!

  • Jones

    Google wants to make sure Facebook has a consistent UI? Why doesn't he look at Android before criticizing others?

    • RajivSK

      I guess you misunderstood that bit. They want facebook to have a UI consistent with that of android, not within itself. I think it's more of a warning towards facebook to not try and take over android as a whole. They can't just say that it cuts into their business so they do it under the consistency banner instead.

  • Sean Lumly

    I'm really, really looking forward to IO in 2-days. It's times like this that it feels good to be a Nexus 4/7/10 owner.

    If nothing else, I sincerely hope that Google irons out blocking of the UI-thread when loading images; the last vestige of jank. As a developer, I have little doubt that I'll love the event!

  • RitishOemraw

    Great news!
    Android has grown a lot and is capable of sooo much!
    It just needs the apps to do it....and by focusing on developers it will raise the quality of apps.
    Most issues with android already stem from apps or minor inconveniences....
    Still a new great android update would be nice......however...this means that i/o will have minor android upgrade (jellybean 4.3) but the next nexus phone will likely come with Key Lime Pie
    (nexus one was major update, nexus s a minor update, galaxy nexus another major update....nexus 4 minor update....nexus 5 another major update....so that stays true to the origin and seeing as I will replace my gNex with the nex5 I am happy to know it will likely be a bigger change than it would be if i/o already presented a great android update)