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Google’s new Android boss talks OS mergers, Samsung, Facebook Home, I/O

In March this year, Sundar Pichai, took over Andy Rubin’s position as Google’s head of mobile. Since then Pichai has become the driving force behind Android while continuing to oversee his initial assignment, Chrome. In his first major interview since taking over the reins, Pichai downplayed speculation of Chrome and Android merging — at least in the short term.

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Pichai also revealed to WIRED why he is comfortable with Android’s monetisation strategy and gave his thoughts on Facebook Home, Samsung’s hold on the Android market, Android forks, web versus native, Android’s beleaguered update process and what we can expect from Google I/O this year.

Here are some of our favourite insights from the interview.

The merging of Chrome and Android

When Pichai became head of Chrome and Android, speculation ran rife that the two disparate operating systems would merge. In the interview, Pichai denies that it’s the case in the short term, paralleling the choice that developers enjoy for their applications with Mac OS X and iOS. He notes that in the long run however, changes in computing might necessitate a different strategy and that the teams at Google are “trying to find commonalities”, even if it’s behind the scenes on a technical level.

“We’re living through a pivotal moment. It’s a world of multiple screens, smart displays, with tons of low-cost computing, with big sensors built into devices. At Google we ask how to bring together something seamless and beautiful and intuitive across all these screens. The picture may look different a year or two from now, but in the short term, we have Android and we have Chrome, and we are not changing course,” Pichai told WIRED.

Facebook Home

While Pichai threw out boilerplate like “we welcome innovations”, his opinion on Facebook Home adoption is inconclusive — “time will tell” he said. He said that while Android evolves, it will remain an open platform to accommodate big projects like Facebook Home, even though he is personally at odds with Facebook’s people-centric approach.

“I think life is multifaceted: people are a huge part of it, but not the center and be-all of everything,” he said.

Hot on the heels of the comment comes a report from Ars Tehnica that the HTC First, Facebook’s launch device for Facebook Home, will be discontinued on the US AT&T network, just a month after its release, with only 15 000 handsets sold.

Samsung’s dominance

Pichai shares Eric Schmidt’s sentiment. Showing diplomacy Pichai said that the Korean consumer electronics giant is “a great partner to work with” and dismisses the tension often “played up in the press.” He drew parallels with Microsoft and Intel’s codependent partnership.

“When I look at where computing needs to go, we need innovation in displays, in batteries. Samsung is a world leader in those technologies,” he said.

Android forks

Referring to Amazon’s decision to fork Android on its Kindle Fire tablets, Pichai said that Google would “love everyone to work on one version of Android.” He said that everyone stands to benefit from the approach, but that forking is not something Google wishes to prevent.

Google I/O

Don’t expect new hardware or big software updates. I/O is going to be about all about developers. “We will show how Google services are doing amazing things on top of these two platforms,” said Pichai.

Image credit: Stephen Lam / REUTERS

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