Longtime Google Android chief Andy Rubin handing over the reins

Google Chrome leader Sundar Pichai takes over Android leadership

Squeezed in between Wednesday morning's superfast sellout of the annual Google I/O conference and Thursday night's formal announcement of the Samsung Galaxy S IV Android smartphone comes this surprising news from Google: Android chief Andy Rubin is moving on to something else to be determined.

Google CEO Larry Page announced the shake-up on the Google Blog and Google+ (where, by the way, Rubin hasn't posted publicly since September), writing in part:

Sergey [Brin] and I first heard about Android back in 2004, when Andy Rubin came to visit us at Google. He believed that aligning standards around an open-source operating system would drive innovation across the mobile industry. Most people thought he was nuts. But his insight immediately struck a chord because at the time it was extremely painful developing services for mobile devices. We had a closet full of more than 100 phones and were building our software pretty much device by device. It was nearly impossible for us to make truly great mobile experiences. Fast forward to today. The pace of innovation has never been greater, and Android is the most used mobile operating system in the world: we have a global partnership of over 60 manufacturers; more than 750 million devices have been activated globally; and 25 billion apps have now been downloaded from Google Play. Pretty extraordinary progress for a decade’s work. 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. Andy, more moonshots please!

The Android architect is being replaced by Sundar Pichai, who has led Google's Chrome browser and Google apps businesses. He's been with Google since 2004, and his educational background spans from India to Stanford to Penn's Wharton School. His first order of business is seen as addressing Android's fragmentation.

Rubin naturally has been a big Android booster, frequently trumpeting big impressive Android numbers when it suited Google's needs, and last year fighting the good fight vs. Oracle, which accused Google of patent and copyright infringements related to Android. Rubin founded Android with Rich Miner in 2003 and sold it to Google in 2005, reportedly for $50 million. (Rubin's departure on the same day that the new Pope was being selected naturally led to Twitter jokes about what Rubin would really be doing next.)

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IDC gave Android and Google a bit of a moonshot earlier this week when it released projections that Android would grab a bigger share of the tablet market by year end. Market watchers have already tallied Android's lead in worldwide smartphone share, which Strategy Analytics pegs at just over two-thirds of the market.Market-watching website Seeking Alpha commented on the Google management move: "The leadership change is fueling speculation Google plans to follow Microsoft's lead in harmonizing its mobile and PC operating systems, given new Android chief Sundar Pichai is already in charge of Chrome OS. It was only 3 weeks ago that Google unveiled the Chromebook Pixel, a costly Chrome OS notebook sporting a touchscreen."

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