Andy Rubin's Android started life as an idea for smart cameras and morphed into an open source ecosystem that powers more than 400 million devices.
The team briefly had toyed with the idea of developing its own programming language, before it chose Java.
would make people bet their livelihood on our platform would not be
having marginally better technology, but factors like having a payment
system and other things surrounding the platform,” said Rubin. “At that
Aha moment we realized we didn’t want to write a programming language,
we wanted to catch the next wave, so we chose Java because all the major
universities were teaching it,” he said.
Archrival Apple gets
some credit for Android’s success. Its iPhone broke the carriers’ hold
over handsets, giving phones access to the open Web and third-party
developers. And Apple’s exclusive deal with AT&T created powerful
demand at rival Verizon for an alternative.
Motorola made a big
bet on Android as part of its turnaround in handsets, winning Verizon’s
backing, a huge win for Google. Hungry for a broadly supported mobile
Linux variant, handset makers such as HTC, LG and Samsung were early
Android adopters. A broad group of embedded systems companies were quick
to adapt the code to their needs for everything from glucose pumps to
In a June interview, Rubin crowed Android hit a
new milestone with 1.17 million handset activations a day and 400
million devices shipped to date. Today, “Android is in a good position
to drive” interoperability across an ecosystem that includes handsets,
laptops and TVs, said Rubin.
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flexibility is something of a curse, Perlman noted. For example, he
spent three days debugging problems on a tablet using a Samsung
application processor that never occurred on a handset using the same
Aside from such “inherent problems” of an open platform, he
praised Rubin’s rapid rise “from an individual contributor [at Apple,
General Magic and Web TV] to a team leader.
“To do what he is
doing at Google, he’s got to manage people, partner relationships, be a
good witness on the stand, and a bunch of things I’m sure never dawned
on him in the early days,” said Perlman. “He’s been part of the
reinvention of Google, and risen in prominence at the company to become
more central to what they are doing,” he said.
For Rubin, the
open mobile world is like a return to his roots as a computer science
student in 1976, tinkering with his first microcomputer hobbyist kit.
“Teams of one could do a lot then, and that was empowering,” he said.
today, Rubin finds himself surprised with what companies are doing with
Android. “All that’s happening without me, I don’t need to be in any
business negotiation, they are just running fast and the last thing I
want to do is slow anyone down,” he said.
Android’s future is as
unpredictable as was its genesis, he added. “You know you are at the
right place and time when everything aligns—better batteries, mobile
processors, capacitive touch screens, 3G--everything fell into place and
no one could have expected it,” he said.