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Android Chief: Updates Will Eventually Come Once A Year

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Mercury News interview: Andy Rubin, vice president, mobile platforms, Google

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Here's the full interview from Mercury News:

People in Silicon Valley have long known that Andy Rubin is smart, but as the man who heads up Google's Android effort, Rubin is beginning to look like a genius.

After a somewhat shaky start, Android, which is a smartphone operating system, is on a tear. According to Google, some 100,000 Android-based phones are being activated each day, more than 60 different models are on the market. And the latest phones, including the HTC Droid Incredible and the HTC Evo 4G are getting top grades from reviewers, who are frequently comparing them favorably to Apple's popular iPhone.

That's quite a feat for a software system that was on just one somewhat poorly received phone 18 months ago. And it's a big change for Rubin, whose previous stab in the mobile phone business as a co-founder of feature phone maker Danger, had little impact on the overall market.

Despite the recent success, Rubin has had his challenges recently, particularly in getting carriers and phone manufacturers to support the latest releases of Android, which have come out at a rapid pace. Meanwhile, some analysts continue to wonder why Google, whose success was built on providing search services and ads to PCs, is in the phone business at all.

Rubin, Google's vice president of mobile platforms, talked about those issues and the future direction of Android in a recent interview with the Mercury News. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q Why is Google investing in Android?

A If you go back five years, Google had a very difficult time getting distribution for its mobile applications. And the manufacturers were in this cycle. There would be a new cell phone every three to six months.

What Google did, knowing that we want to get our applications distributed, was to help the manufacturers basically get off that treadmill and focused on building cool new products. We provided Android, which is the foundation for them to build those products.

Assuming that the industry adopted Android because it was good, it would be a lot easier for us to get our applications distributed equally.

Q But even so, Android is arguably a cost center for Google; Google doesn't make any money directly from it. Can you explain the business model?

A My budget isn't based on sales. My budget's based on eyeballs, getting more customers attracted to the platform.

So all we have to focus on are those types of innovations that scale for large audiences, and the advertising crank is running in the background. It's just more eyeballs, more users, more happy, delighted users, more face time. You carry your cell phone around eight or 10 hours a day, the revenue crank just turns.

Q Since you started this effort, industry and government regulators have moved toward making the market much more open. Given that, is Google's Android effort still necessary?

A I think so. It's a progression. We're at a moment in time right now, but the definition of openness is going to change over time.

What does openness mean? Is a platform that is open to outside programmers open? Is a platform that has an open content store open? Is a platform that's open source open? All those definitions are still in flux, I think.

So I don't think it's time to give up. I think it's time to double down.

Q Android has had a lot of product releases in a short amount of time. Can you talk about why that's the case?

Awe've gone through a lot of product iterations because we had to bring the product up to market spec. Quite honestly, the product when we launched it, it didn't really feel like a 1.0, it felt like kind of an 0.8, but it was a window of opportunity and the market needed an entrant at the holiday season.

So we launched it, and from our internal 0.8, we got to 1.0 pretty quickly, and we went through this iteration cycle. You've noticed, probably, that that's slowed down a little bit. Our product cycle is now, basically twice a year, and it will probably end up being once a year when things start settling down, because a platform that's moving — it's hard for developers to keep up. I want developers to basically leverage the innovation. I don't want developers to have to predict the innovation.

Q In terms of where Android goes next, what types of devices are interesting to you beyond mobile phones?

A You can sort those product segments based on how many devices are out there, what's the total market size for these things.

We're at about 4 billion cell phones. About 1.4 billion Internet connected PCs — that includes desktop and laptops and everything else. Like 1.2 billion automobiles. Some 800 million TVs.

And it's like, "OK, let's target the top four." Let's do everything we can to get the big ones. Remember, our business is volume, because it's an advertising business and we want to delight a lot of people. And how do you delight a lot of people? You get in the products that they use every day.

Via MercuryNews.com

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