Android One will bring high-quality smartphones to India, says Pichai

  • Leslie D’Monte (LiveMint), Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Sep 16, 2014 12:13 IST

In March 2013, Chennai-born P Sundarajan, better known as Sundar Pichai, shot to fame when Google CEO Larry Page announced that he would head the Chrome operating system (OS) and apps business and fill the shoes of Andy Rubin, the architect of the Android unit. Around that time, Pichai was also being mentioned as a potential co-CEO of Microsoft Corp. Reports said Pichai was cajoled to stay back by Page. An IIT-Kharagpur graduate, Pichai joined Google in 2004. Today, the Android operating system (OS) has a market share in excess of 80%, both globally and in India. In an interview on Monday, Pichai, in Delhi to launch three Android One phones, spoke about the road ahead for Android, wearable devices and partners. Edited excerpts:

This is a real big event for India. What do you hope to achieve with Android One?

Outside the I/O (Google’s annual developer conference), this is one our biggest events globally. Android One is our initiative to bring high-quality smartphones to new markets like India. We are going a step forward from Android. We are providing a reference platform, and a menu of choice for our original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners to choose various tested and pre-qualified components so that it’s easier to build a phone. And with that, they get the peace of mind of software backed by Google, with security and updates.

We are not only announcing the launch of the devices, but also connectivity partnerships with telecom service providers like Bharti Airtel, and our expansion to other countries in South Asia. All three devices from Micromax, Karbonn and Spice will go on sale across India, both online and offline. The question was: what was the most affordable phone we could deliver, given the quality bar we had in mind?

By 2017, India will have 500 million internet users, and Google expects many of these users to access the internet through smartphones. Within the next couple of years, India will become the second largest internet user (market) in the world, and most new users will access the internet on mobiles. And Android is powering much of this growth. In India, Android users have more than tripled over the past 12 months. With today’s announcement (of the Android One mobiles), we expect the pace to accelerate.

And you have wearables in the offing?

Wearables will be the next wave of computing, and they are a great addition to the smartphone experience. There are a whole new set of uses in segments like health and fitness.

Which mobile you currently use?

I have about 20 devices at any given time, and switch between them. I’m constantly using the next phase of devices that are being tested, and which we plan to ship.

What’s that on your wrist now (pointing to a smartwatch-like wearable)?

This is a confidential prototype that I can’t talk about.

What’s that on your wrist now (pointing to a smartwatch-like wearable)?

This is a confidential prototype that I can’t talk about.

Do you feel you have filled the shoes of Andy Rubin well?

They were definitely big shoes to fill in. Andy had run it (Android) for a long time. At the same time, it was a very natural and intuitive thing for me to do. I had a very good team in place. The good thing about stuff such as Android is that you don’t get much time to think about such things. I felt like running a marathon at a sprint pace on a treadmill, and someone just came and made the treadmill go faster. You get one shot at it, or you fall down.

Will we see the Chrome OS and Android OS merging at some point?

We invest both in Android and Chrome. Computing is integral to people’s lives. The onus is on us to deliver more useful things to them. We have a huge opportunity across Android to make computing more useful. We are investing in both areas, and we will converge organically. In L (the new Android L is an update that will offer Google’s new design, improved battery life, enhanced security features and smarter notifications), we are doing a lot of work on making Android and Chrome integrated with the rest of our offerings. So, while there will be a unifying experience across services, Chrome OS and Android One won’t be a single OS since they have unique attributes.

But you do face competition from companies such as Apple and Microsoft., especially from the latter in the enterprise segment, for which you have Android for Work. How do you perceive this scenario?

Android One is not guided by others. We don’t take the computing landscape for granted. Competition is good and the journey to get computing to all is important. But our approach is different from our competitors. Android for Work (a platform that allows business and personal information to co-exist on a single device—derived much from Samsung’s Knox) is underway. It will be a consistent platform for companies.

It’s a big initiative and we are working with a lot of partners, including Samsung. There were reports about competitors trying to poach you. But you’re still at Google...

I’m very passionate about computing and Google is a place where I can have a long-term vision for it and a humbling place to be in. Larry (Page) is committed to the very long term. It’s a partnership I enjoy.

What’s your leadership style?

I believe in working with people who share your vision for making a difference and then empowering them. At a practical level, it’s (about) staying out of the way. When coordinating such a large ecosystem such as Android, people need to share your concerns.

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