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Andy Rubin

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Casey Johnston


Pichai seems open to Android meaning lots of different things to lots of people and companies.

It Came from China

An interview with Sundar Pichai over at Wired has settled some questions about suspected Google plans, rivalries, and alliances. Pichai was recently announced as Andy Rubin’s replacement as head of Android, and he expressed cool confidence ahead of Google I/O about the company’s relationships with both Facebook and Samsung. He even felt good about the future of the spotty Android OS update situation.

Tensions between Google and Samsung, the overwhelmingly dominant Android handset manufacturer, are reportedly rising. But Pichai expressed nothing but goodwill toward the company. “We work with them on pretty much almost all our important products,” Pichai said while brandishing his own Samsung Galaxy S 4. “Samsung plays a critical role in helping Android be successful.”

Pichai noted in particular the need for companies that make “innovation in displays [and] in batteries” a priority. His attitude toward Motorola, which Google bought almost two years ago, was more nonchalant: “For the purposes of the Android ecosystem, Motorola is [just another] partner.”

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Google reached out to LG for the first time in making a partnership Android device last fall; is it trying to keep its distance from Samsung?

Google

Google is getting concerned about Samsung’s dominance in the Android handset scene, according to a report Monday from the Wall Street Journal. Google is allegedly meeting with other companies to work together and help them become more competitive against the runaway Samsung. Samsung currently owns Android phone sales in nearly every important metric, including unit shipments and profitability.

The WSJ noted that Google’s senior VP of mobile and digital content, Andy Rubin, stated last fall that Google and Samsung’s union had obviously been fruitful, but the company could become a concern if it gained much more footing in sales. Google’s specific concern, according to the WSJ, is that Samsung “has become so big… that it could flex its muscle to renegotiate their arrangement and eat into Google’s lucrative mobile ad business.”

A renegotiation could also afford Samsung perks like earlier access to new versions of Android. It could give Samsung more weight to throw around in creating partnership devices with Google, such that it doesn't feel the need to compromise and then later one-up itself, as happened with the Galaxy Nexus and then Galaxy S III.

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google nexus lead

Google's campus in Mountain View is a weird place — a sprawling, flat expanse dotted with angular, gray buildings. And lots of colorful bikes. It feels like an island, a place with its own set of rules, and it's easy to feel out of joint if you don't know the handshake. In some ways it's like a corporate realization of Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zones... save for, you know, the corporation. It's the kind of place where the uniquely Silicon Valley meshing of childish whimsy and a fervent, quasi-religious work ethic is in full swing. A place where coding ideas and how-tos for relaxation are printed and hung in the men's bathrooms above the urinals. It's charming and bizarre in equal parts.

The last time I had trekked across the...

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oha logo large

Earlier today there was some strange drama as Acer abruptly cancelled the launch of a smartphone. The phone was running the Aliyun OS, which is created by Alibaba and which Google says is actually a "non-compatible [version] of Android." At the time, Acer said that Google had "expressed concerns" about the launch, and now Google has come forward to explain its side of the story in a statement:

Compatibility is at the heart of the Android ecosystem and ensures a consistent experience for developers, manufacturers and consumers. Non-compatible versions of Android, like Aliyun, weaken the ecosystem. All members of the Open Handset Alliance have committed to building one Android platform and to not ship non-compatible Android devices....

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Phillip Burton Federal Building and US Courthouse

The copyright phase of the Oracle vs. Google infringement trial has been winding on for two weeks, but we moved one step closer to resolution today with the attorneys for both sides presenting their closing arguments. Oracle attorney Michael Jacobs made his client's case, referring to the trial as being "mostly about Google's excuses." As evidence of Google's wrongdoing, Jacobs pointed to email exchanges that have surfaced throughout the trial, in which the likes of Eric Schmidt, Andy Rubin, and Tim Lindholm discuss how Google needed to acquire a license from Sun for the use of Java in Android.

Stating that the 37 APIs in question were the "crown jewels" of Java — ones which Google had used to ensure quick developer uptake for Android...

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Larry Page serious

Larry Page just issued a letter to investors on the state of Google this year.

He unveiled the letter in a post on Google+.

Here's the full letter:

Sergey and I founded Google because we believed that building a great search experience would improve people’s lives and, hopefully, the world.  And in the decade-plus that’s followed, we’ve been constantly delighted by the ways in which people have used our technology—such as making an artificial limb using old designs discovered online.

But we’re always impatient to do better for our users.  Excellence matters, and technology advances so fast that the potential for improvement is tremendous. So, since becoming CEO again, I’ve pushed hard to increase our velocity, improve our execution, and focus on the big bets that will make a difference in the world.  Google is a large company now, but we will achieve more, and do it faster, if we approach life with the passion and soul of a start-up.

Last April, I began by reorganizing the management team around our core products to improve responsibility and accountability across Google.  I also kicked off a big clean-up.  Google has so many opportunities that, unless we make some hard choices, we end up spreading ourselves too thin and don’t have the impact we want. So we have closed or combined over 30 products, including projects like Knol and Sidewiki. In addition, we gave many of our products, such as Google Search, a visual refresh, and they now have a cleaner, more consistent, and beautiful look.

A beautifully simple experience across Google

Creating a simpler, more intuitive experience across Google has been another important focus. I have always believed that technology should do the hard work—discovery, organization, communication—so users can do what makes them happiest: living and loving, not messing with annoying computers! That means making our products work together seamlessly. People shouldn’t have to navigate Google to get stuff done. It should just happen. As Sergey said in the memorable way only he can, “We've let a thousand flowers bloom; now we want to put together a coherent bouquet.”

Think about basic actions like sharing or recommendations. When you find a great article, you want to share that knowledge with people who will find it interesting, too. If you see a great movie, you want to recommend it to friends. Google+ makes sharing super easy by creating a social layer across all our products so users connect with the people who matter to them.

When you sign up for Google+, you can use Circles to group people into different categories, such as “Friends,” “Family,” or “Rocket Scientists,” and then engage with them just like in real life. You can recommend great news articles, websites, and videos to specific Circles, or share photos with “Family” straight from your Android device. And the photos are even uploaded for you automatically! To follow people with shared interests, such as photography, just add them to your Circles. And you can share your own ideas with the world, or a smaller group, via the Google+ Stream and have others respond.

It’s still early days, and we have a long way to go. But these are tremendously important changes, and with over 120 Google+ integrations to date (including Google Search, YouTube and Android), we are on the right track. Well over 100 million users are active on Google+, and we’re seeing a positive impact across the Web, with Google users being able to recommend search results and videos they like—a goal we’ve had ever since we started the company.

Activity on the Google+ Stream itself is increasing too. We’re excited about the tremendous speed with which some people have amassed over one million followers, as well as the depth of the discussions taking place among happy, passionate users—all evidence that we’re generating genuine engagement. When I post publicly I get a ton of high quality comments, which makes me happy and encourages me to keep posting. I strongly encourage all of you to follow me on Google+—I love having this new way to communicate and share with all of you!

Next-generation search

Understanding identity and relationships can also help us improve search. Today, most search results are generic, so two strangers sitting next to each other in a café will get very similar answers. Yet everyone’s life experiences are unique. We are all knowledgeable about different things; we have different interests and our preferences—for music, food, vacations, sports, movies, TV shows, and especially people—vary enormously.

Imagine how much better search would be if we added… you. Say you’ve been studying computer science for awhile like me, then the information you need won’t be that helpful to a relative novice and vice versa. If you’re searching for a particular person, you want the results for that person—not everyone else with the same name. These are hard problems to solve without knowing your identity, your interests, or the people you care about.

We have an old-time Googler called Ben Smith, who is a good friend of mine. It turns out that he isn’t the only Ben Smith in the world! Today, it’s tough for Google to find the right Ben for me. Many people share only their public profiles, not their posts, photos, or connections. And privacy considerations certainly limit the information that can be shared between platforms—even if the third parties hosting it were willing to work with Google, which hasn’t always been the case.

Google+ helps solve this problem for us because it enables Google to understand people and their connections. So when I search for Ben Smith, I get the real Ben Smith (for me), right there in my search box, complete with his picture. Previously, the search box would just have had the series of letters I had typed, with no real understanding that I was looking for a unique person. This is a huge and important change, and there’s a ton more work to do.  But this kind of next-generation search in which Google understands real-world entities—things, not strings—will help improve our results in exciting new ways. It’s about building genuine knowledge into our search engine.

Taking actions

In the early days of Google you would type in a query, we’d return ten blue links, and you would move on fairly happily. Today you want more. If you search for “weather san Francisco”, chances are you want… the weather in San Francisco right there on the results page, not another click or two away. So that’s what we now provide. In fact, before you’ve even finished typing “weather” into the search box we give you the weather because we’ve learned that’s most likely what you’re looking for.

Truly great search is all about turning your needs into actions in the blink of an eye. There is a huge amount of data in the world that isn’t publicly available today.  Showing it in our results involves deep partnerships across different industries in many countries. It’s very similar to the work we did to get Google Maps off the ground.

Last year, for example, we welcomed ITA Software to the Google family. They have strong relationships with the airline industry, and using that data we can now provide more relevant results for travel queries. This means that if you search for “flights from Chicago to los Angeles”, you get a list of the most relevant flights with prices, and you can book directly with the airline—or click on an ad for an online travel agency. We’re also experimenting with a feature called Hotel Finder, which enables you to compare prices and book a hotel room right from the results page. It’s all about speeding things up so users can get on with the things that matter in their lives.

From desktop to mobiles and tablets, oh my

Getting from needs to actions lightning fast is especially important on smaller devices like mobile phones, where screen size is limited and context really matters.  That’s why I’m so excited about Android. Take Google Maps, one of our best-loved services.  With it, you can search for something, perhaps the nearest bookstore, find it, and be shown the way straight there.  And you can now turn your phone into a wallet using... Google Wallet.  So you can tap, pay, and save while you shop.  No more claiming you left your credit card at home when your friend asks you to pay for lunch!

It wasn’t always that easy. I remember first meeting Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, back in 2004. At the time, developing apps for mobile devices was incredibly painful. We had a closet full of over 100 phones, and we were building our software pretty much one device at a time. Andy believed that aligning standards around an open source operating system would drive innovation across the mobile industry. At the time, most people thought he was nuts.

Fast forward to today. Android is on fire, and the pace of mobile innovation has never been greater. Over 850,000 devices are activated daily through a network of 55 manufacturers and more than 300 carriers. Android is a tremendous example of the power of partnership, and it just gets better with each version. The latest update, Ice Cream Sandwich, has a beautiful interface that adapts to the form of the device.  Whether it’s on a phone or tablet, the software works seamlessly.

As devices multiply and usage changes (many users coming online today may never use a desktop machine), it becomes more and more important to ensure that people can access all of their stuff anywhere.  Constant downloading is a terrible experience, so I am excited about products like Gmail and Google Docs that work well across Android and desktop. With Chrome now recently available on Android, switching devices becomes painless, too, because all of your tabs are just there across your desktop and Android.  You can even click the back button on a different device, and it just works! And with Google Play, movies, books, apps, and games are all accessible from the Web or an Android device—no cables, downloading, or syncing required. I think there is a theme here!

In August, we announced plans to acquire Motorola Mobility, a company that bet big on Android very early on. We are excited about the opportunities to build great devices capitalizing on the tremendous success and growth of Android and Motorola’s long history of technological innovation. But it’s important to reiterate that openness and investment by many hardware partners have contributed to Android’s success. So we look forward to working with all of them in the future to deliver outstanding user experiences. Android was built as an open ecosystem, and we have no plans to change that.

Long-term focus

We have always tried to concentrate on the long term, and to place bets on technology we believe will have a significant impact over time. It’s hard to imagine now, but when we started Google most people thought search was a solved problem and that there was no money to be made apart from some banner advertising.  We felt the exact opposite: that search quality was very poor, and that awesome user experiences would clearly make money.

Today it feels like we’re watching the same movie in slow motion over again. We have tremendous new products that were seen as crazy at launch yet now have phenomenal usage. They easily pass the toothbrush test: they are important enough that millions of people use them at least once or twice a day. Take Chrome, for example. In 2008, people asked whether the world really needed another browser. Today Chrome has over 200 million users and is growing fast, thanks to its speed, simplicity, and security. If you don’t use Chrome, just try it out, you’ll never go back! I promise it won’t take too long to install, and if it does you probably need a new computer.

We are seeing phenomenal usage of our Web-based applications, too. When we launched Gmail in 2004, most people thought webmail was a toy, but its accessibility—all your email from anywhere, on any device—and insane storage have made it a winner with more than 350 million people. And our enterprise customers love it too. Over 5,000 new businesses and educational establishments now sign up every day.

In 2006, when Google acquired YouTube, we faced a lot of skepticism. Today, YouTube has over 800 million monthly users uploading over an hour of video per second. It enables an activist in Syria to broadcast globally or a young star to build an entertainment network from scratch. YouTube channels have real potential to entertain and educate, as well as to help organize all the amazing videos that are available. So I’m excited we have a new effort working with media powerhouses such as Jay-Z, the Wall Street Journal, and Disney to create channels that appeal to every interest.

People rightly ask how we’ll make money from these big bets. We understand the need to balance our short- and longer-term needs because our revenue is the engine that funds all our innovation. But over time, our emerging high-usage products will likely generate significant new revenue streams for Google as well as for our partners, just as search does today. For example, we’re seeing a hugely positive revenue impact from mobile advertising, which grew to a run rate of over $2.5 billion by the third quarter of 2011—two and a half times more than at the same point in 2010. Our goal is long-term growth in revenue and absolute profit—so we invest aggressively in future innovation while tightly managing our short-term costs.

Love and trust

We have always wanted Google to be a company that is deserving of great love. But we recognize this is an ambitious goal because most large companies are not well-loved, or even seemingly set up with that in mind. We’re lucky to have a very direct relationship with our users, which creates a strong incentive for us to do the right thing. For every magic moment we create—like the ability to drop a photo into Google and search by image—we have a very happy user.  And when our products don’t work or we make mistakes, it’s easy for users to go elsewhere because our competition is only a click away.

Users place a lot of trust in Google when they store data, like emails and documents, on our systems. And we need to be responsible stewards of that information. It’s why we invest a lot of effort in security and related tools for users, like 2-step verification and encryption, which help prevent unauthorized access to information. The recent changes we made to our privacy policies generated a lot of interest. But they will enable us to create a much better, more intuitive experience across Google—our key focus for the year.

We have always believed that it’s possible to make money without being evil. In fact, healthy revenue is essential if we are to change the world through innovation, and hire (and retain) great people. As a child I remember reading about Nikola Tesla, a genius whose impact was severely limited by his failure to make money from his inventions. It was a good lesson. Today, most of our revenue comes from advertising. We take pains to make sure that users know when something is paid for, and we work hard to make these advertisements relevant for users.  Better ads are better for everyone—better information or offers for users, growth for businesses, and increased revenue for publishers to fund better content.

Over one million businesses now use Google’s advertising products and we’re delighted with the ways in which we have helped other companies (both large and small) succeed. I recently heard about a Thai dressmaker whose store was destroyed by floods. To start rebuilding her business, she invested $5 a day in Google AdWords and doubled her revenue. Today over 80 percent of her orders come from the Web. Taylor’s Bike Shop in Utah, a family-run store, saw increase in sales of over 50 percent when they started using AdWords. Today they maintain a staff of eight people on a steady basis.

At the heart of our business model has always been the belief that we’re better off if we can create a larger pie for our partners. We started with AdSense, and Google has paid out over $30 billion to support content on the Web since its launch over a decade ago. That is a mighty big check (actually lots of smaller checks!) and I’m delighted we’ve been able to support our partners with that much resource. The same is true for our newer technologies like DoubleClick for online publishers and AdMob for mobile developers. YouTube also generates healthy revenue for Google and our content partners—in fact, partner ad revenue has more than doubled for the fourth year in a row. One thing I've learned is that if you keep doubling things, it really adds up fast!

All that said, we recognize that we don’t get everything right—and that the changes we make, like our recent visual refresh, can initially upset some users (even if they later come to love them). But we don’t operate in a static industry, and technology changes so fast that we need to innovate and iterate. Of course, when we do make mistakes we try to fix them as quickly as possible and, if necessary, change the way we do things to prevent problems from arising again. And we work hard to explain what we are doing—and why—because with size comes responsibility.

Googlers

People are a crucial part of Google’s long-term success, since companies are no greater than the efforts and ingenuity of their employees. Our goal is to hire the best at every level and keep them.  In our experience your working environment is enormously important because people want to feel part of a family in the office, just as they do at home. So we invest in great food, high quality medical care, gyms, and other fitness facilities, as well as cool work spaces that bring people together.

Most important of all, however, we believe that work should be challenging. People are more motivated and have more fun when they work on important projects. Take Google Translate, which we started eight years ago and now enables anyone to translate text in an instant between any two of 64 languages—including Hindi, Arabic and Chinese. That's actually 4032 different pairs of languages you can translate! In fact, by combining it with our voice recognition technology, we’ve turned mobile phones into pocket translators for millions of users globally. When you work on projects of this magnitude, it’s impossible not to wake up excited about work; the chance to make a difference is the greatest motivation anyone can have.

Happiness is a healthy disregard for the impossible

When I was a student at the University of Michigan, I went on a summer leadership course. The slogan was “a healthy disregard for the impossible,” and it’s an idea that has stayed with me ever since. It may sound nuts, but I’ve found that it’s easier to make progress on mega-ambitious goals than on less risky projects. Few people are crazy enough to try, and the best people always want to work on the biggest challenges. We've also found that “failed” ambitious projects often yield other dividends. Believe it or not, the technological innovation behind AdSense, which, as I mentioned earlier, has paid out over $30 billion to partners, was the result of a “failed” more ambitious project to understand the Web. The team failed at understanding the Web, mostly, I think, because they were distracted by their work making advertisements amazingly relevant.

Last year, the Google+ team decided to integrate multi-person video into their efforts. They had a small committed team that was crazy enough to believe this was possible, and Google+ Hangouts was born. You can now video chat with anyone, anywhere, even from the Great Barrier Reef. It was the same with driver-less cars, which we started on in 2008. Today we have driven over 200,000 miles, and Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, recently took a drive in one of them. So the one-sentence summary of how to change the world… work on something that is uncomfortably exciting!

Today the opportunities are greater than ever. Things we used to think were magic, we now take for granted: the ability to get a map instantly, to find information quickly and easily, to choose any video from millions on YouTube rather than just a few TV channels. People are buying more devices and using them more because technology is playing an increasingly important role in our lives. I believe that by producing innovative technology products that touch people deeply, we will enable you to do truly amazing things that change the world.  It’s a very exciting time to be at Google, and I take the responsibility I have to all of you very seriously.

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It’s not everyday that someone tries to add a new programming language to the web. There’s a good reason for that. The great trinity of web development — HTML, CSS and JavaScript — while not perfect has proved itself highly flexible and capable of adapting as it evolves, which, in the end, might be more important than perfection.

But, regardless of how well those three have served the web thus far, they are not enough for Google, which is hoping the web will now embrace Dart, Google’s brand new programming language for “structured web programming.”

The first hint of Dart surfaced about a month ago when an internal Google memo was leaked onto the web (the memo itself dates from 2010). In it Google claims that “JavaScript has fundamental flaws that cannot be fixed merely by evolving the language.” The answer, for Google, was to go off and create its own homebrewed solution.

That solution is Dart, a “class-based optionally typed programming language for building web applications.”

Lars Bak, a software engineer working on Dart, says the language is designed to work with every thing from “a one-person project without much structure to a large-scale project needing formal types in the code to state programmer intent.”

In other words, Dart is aiming to be a one-size-fits-all solution for writing apps on the web. Dart has been built from the ground up with this goal in mind. Indeed Dart offers some interesting tools, including optional types and the ability to declare private methods via an underscore. Unfortunately for Dart, a couple of novelties don’t seem to be winning over programmers. The Hacker News discussion thread on Dart is full of rather barbed critiques with hardly a supportive voice to be heard.

Dart on the web

Appealing to programmers is only half of what Dart needs to succeed, it also has to work well on the open web. For that Google has two solutions.

The first and ideal solution will be to execute Dart code in a browser-native virtual machine (very similar to how JavaScript is handled today). Of course that means the rest of the browser makers need to join Google in supporting Dart. Because that isn’t likely to happen any time soon, nor will it ever happen for legacy web browsers, Google has a fallback plan — a compiler that translates Dart code to JavaScript.

While the JavaScript compiler solution will mean slower web apps, it also means that Dart apps would always be able to run, regardless of the browser in question. That’s good for older browsers, but it also raises some questions about where Google plans to go with Dart.

Essentially Google has set up a two-tier system for running Dart in the browser, and that is where Dart might run afoul of the open web.

Prior Dart Art

The leaked Google memo that appeared on the web last month created a tempest in the web standards community teacup. The idea that Google had a secret project designed “to replace JavaScript as the lingua franca of web development” did not sit well with those who support open web standards.

The company appears to have backed off that stance somewhat for the official release. In fact Google hardly mentions JavaScript in its Dart announcement and Lars Bak tells CNet that Dart is “not going to replace JavaScript… JavaScript is a cornerstone of the Web today, and it will continue to be for a long, long time.”

That message may be too little, too late. Publicly Google may now be pushing the message that Dart is complimentary to JavaScript, but the blunter language and goals outlined in the leaked memo are already out there, fresh in developers’ minds. That, combined with Google’s less than stellar track record with its “open” projects may make it difficult for Dart to find supporters.

While Dart is open source and available for anyone to use, Google does not have a strong record of fostering open projects, that is, projects where the community can not just download and compile code (Andy Rubin’s “definition of open“) but can actually have a hand in creating features and guiding the direction of the project.

Until the latter component is well established don’t expect other browser makers to adopt Dart. So long as Google controls the strings it’s unlikely its arch rivals like Microsoft and Apple will support Dart.

Without that support Dart won’t be running in a virtual machine; instead it will fall back to running as JavaScript. That effectively means that, while Dart will run in any browser, it will likely have subpar performance in any browser lacking the virtual machine.

What standards proponents fear is a web where only Google’s Chrome browser ever fully supports Dart. That would mean that, while Dart apps would work everywhere, they’d be significantly faster in Chrome. That would send the web back to the bad old days of “works best in Internet Explorer” websites, only this time around it would be “works best in Google Chrome.”

Future Dart

It’s possible that Google will use Dart to finally create a true community-driven project. The company has already said it plans to eventually submit Dart for standardization, which would certainly help.

It’s too early to write off Dart, but it’s also too early to say it will be anything more than a novelty Google uses in its own apps (like WebP or even SPDY). Even if Dart can convince both developers and browser makers to jump on board, don’t look for Dart to become the “lingua franca of web development” any time soon.

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