Android's fragmentation issues seen as first task for Google's Pichai

Sundar Pichai

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Google’s decision to bring its Android and Chrome divisions together under Sundar Pichai should result in greater work between the two platforms, but Pichai first needs to rein in the fast expanding operating system and bring some order to the business, analysts said Wednesday.

Pichai, who currently runs the Chrome team, assumed leadership of Android on Wednesday when Google said current Android head Andy Rubin would be stepping aside.

“The success of Google Android has transformed the wireless industry right along side of Apple iPhone,” said Jeff Kagan, an Atlanta-based telecommunications analyst, via email. “That is an incredible transformation, and much of Google’s success can be attributed to Andy Rubin.”

“That’s why it’s so curious that he is leaving,” said Kagan. “We may never know the real reasons Andy Rubin is stepping aside. This is a very demanding job and maybe he is simply burned out. The smartphone sector is one of Google’s most shining stars. It continues to grow and change rapidly.”

Carolina Milanesi, a research vice president at Gartner, said she too was initially surprised when she saw the news, but then decided that it makes sense.

“It’s about the next phase of Android,” she said. “Basically, Ruben’s job is done. The platform is successful and now it’s about the ecosystem and finding a better way to monetize.”

Android accounted for two-thirds of all smartphone shipments in 2012, according to Gartner, but not all of those phones were created equal.

A number of different versions of the Android OS exist and phone makers don’t always install the latest version on new devices. Further, since OS updates are left to phone makers and not Google, phones don’t always stay up to date with the latest version.

New version of Android expected soon

That’s about to get more complicated. Key Lime Pie, the next version of Android, is expected to debut at an upcoming Google conference and take Android to version 5, while many phones are still running a version 2.x operating system.

Android 5 (Key Lime Pie)

“He needs to stop the proliferation chaos and get on a schedule for delivery updates,” said Ted Schadler, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, when asked if he had any advice for Pichai.

The different versions make life difficult for application developers, so Pichai needs to create an environment where app builders have confidence over the future direction of Android, said Schadler.

There are a couple of other tasks in front of Pichai, he said.

“He needs to reach out much more aggressively to key OEMs, and that’s not just the obvious ones like Samsung but others like Dell and HP to make sure they are part of how the platform advances. And he needs to focus on privacy and security. [Google] needs to allow at the OS level an ecosystem of things like mobile device management and enterprise level security. Right now it’s just an overlay,” he said.

Unite Android and Chrome

Beyond Android, Pichai is also expected to work on bringing together mobile and the company’s Chrome OS.

“In the next few years we will see the Google Android and Chrome segments come together,” said Kagan. “Yesterday was all about separate devices, but tomorrow they all operate together under the cloud. Tomorrow is very different and also very rapidly growing and changing.”

Analysts say Google stands to gain if it can bring the two platforms together.

“The benefits are huge,” said Ray Wang, principal analyst and CEO at Constellation Research, of such a combination. “A common advertising platform, write-once-deploy-anywhere apps, integration advantages in search, ads and context delivery, and making location-based services much easier.”

As for Rubin, his next step at Google is unclear. In a blog post announcing the change, Larry Page said Rubin would “start a new chapter at Google.”

“To be clear, Rubin did a great job evangelizing and getting Android to where it is,” said Wang. “He’s got other great opportunities ahead of him.”

Updated at 2:45 p.m. PT with more analyst comments.

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