Google Inc. (GOOG) is changing the leadership of the unit at the heart of its mobile-technology war with Apple (AAPL) Inc., saying Sundar Pichai will succeed Andy Rubin at the helm of the Android software business.
Pichai will keep oversight of the Chrome Web browser and operating system while taking responsibility for Android, the most widely used mobile software, Chief Executive Officer Larry Page said in a blog today. Rubin has led the effort since 2005, when Google acquired Android, the company he co-founded.
Under Rubin, Android surged ahead of Apple’s software to command 70 percent of the operating systems on smartphones. While Chrome has also gained ground against Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Explorer browser, it has made scant headway as the software running computers. The management change could help Google weave together the products more closely and make it easier for partners to integrate both into devices.
“Two separate compute platforms is somewhat faulty,” said Will Stofega, a program director at researcher IDC. “You want developers to have a seamless experience.”
The move also lets Rubin -- whose expertise is building new products from the ground up -- take a stab at another fledgling business at Google, which is seeking new sources of revenue alongside Web advertising.
Google slipped less than 1 percent to $825.31 at the close in New York. The stock has climbed 17 percent this year, while shares Cupertino, California-based Apple have fallen 20 percent.
At the same time, it lessens the probability that Android and Chrome will move in conflicting directions, said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner Inc. The two products aren’t as closely integrated as Apple’s operating systems, she said.
“Some partners might be concerned, is Google going to take a different trajectory” with regard to Chrome and Android, Milanesi said. “From the user perspective, you need to have that Aha! moment, the way users have” when they use Apple’s Mac and mobile operating systems, she said.
Pichai, who joined Google in 2004, has led the effort to roll out laptop computers that use the Chrome operating system. The company announced a high-end version, called Pixel, last month, complementing lower-end machines made by Samsung Electronics Co. and Acer Inc. (2353)
“Sundar has a talent for creating products that are technically excellent yet easy to use -- and he loves a big bet,” Page wrote in the blog. “While Andy’s a really hard act to follow, I know Sundar will do a tremendous job doubling down on Android as we work to push the ecosystem forward.”
Pichai has stuck with Google even as other opportunities arose. He was courted by Twitter Inc., the microblogging startup, in 2010, Bloomberg Businessweek reported in 2011. He previously held positions at Applied Materials Inc. (AMAT) and McKinsey & Co.
Google is seeking to widen its leadership in the wireless arena against Apple, which helped pioneer the smartphone market in 2007 with its introduction of the iPhone. More than 750 million Android-enabled devices have been activated globally, Page said in the post.
“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 said.
Rubin was among seven managers promoted to senior executive positions in April 2011, not long after Page became CEO, succeeding Eric Schmidt. Android’s market leadership has given it less room to grow and less incentive for someone like Rubin to stay at the helm and manage day-to-day issues, said Carl Howe, an analyst with the Yankee Group.
“It’s more of a job,” Howe said. “For an entrepreneur it feels more like rolling the ball uphill.”
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