China's Xiaomi has poached a key Google executive involved in the tech giant's Android phones, in a move seen as a coup for the rapidly growing Chinese smartphone maker.
Hugo Barra, who was Google's vice president in charge of Android product management, said in a blog post late Wednesday that he is joining Xiaomi to help them expand their business outside China, where they already have some market share, but are well behind Samsung and Apple.
"After nearly 5 1/2 years at Google and almost 3 years as a member of the Android team -- the most amazing group of people I've ever worked with in my life -- I have decided to start a new career chapter," Barra wrote.
"In a few weeks, I'll be joining the Xiaomi team in China to help them expand their incredible product portfolio and business globally - as Vice President, Xiaomi Global."
"I'm really looking forward to this new challenge, and am particularly excited about the opportunity to continue to help drive the Android ecosystem."
Android is the Google-developed smartphone operating system that is battling with systems from Apple and Microsoft for dominance in the smartphone market.
It is already offered on Samsung and other phones.
But Xiaomi staked out in just two years a 2.5 % share in the coveted Chinese market, according to Analysys International, with a strategy of discount prices for phones with high-end features.
Xiaomi was co-founded by a former Google executive, Lin Bin.
"We wish Hugo Barra the best," Google said in an email response to an AFP inquriy.
"We'll miss him at Google and we're excited that he is staying within the Android ecosystem."
Google gives Android mobile operating system software away free to gadget makers and banks on making money from its search, email, maps and other online services tailored to work well on the resulting devices.
International Data Corporation reported early this month that smartphones powered by Android software increased their global market share as iPhones lost ground in the absence of new models being unleashed by Apple.
Android's share of the smartphone market grew to 79.3 % in the second quarter while that of iPhone slipped to 13.2 % from 16.6 % in the same three-month period last year, according to IDC figures.
While analysts believe Apple is well positioned to recapture market share with the release later this year of new iPhone models, there is pressure for a low-price version of the smartphone tailored for the China market.
Barra's move is a win for Xiaomi while likely to have little to no effect on Google or the California company's Android team, according to S&P Capital IQ analyst John Kessler.
"Xiaomi is a really exciting and interesting story when it comes to spartphones in China, a very large market with very big opportunities," Kessler said.
"Getting someone from Google Android's upper-level management presumably tells something about perceived opportunities for Xiaomi."
"We don't really look at it as having an impact on Google," he noted.