Google’s announcement last week that Android’s founder and inspiration, Andy Rubin, was stepping aside from his position as the Big G’s mobile head honcho, came as a bolt from the blue.
Rubin created Android, sold it to Google and has seen it become the world’s favourite OS, all in less than a decade.
There’s absolutely no denying that this is a man that has changed the smartphone landscape, arguably as much as Steve Jobs with the original iPhone (cue backbiting from Apple fanatics).
But what does this change at the top mean in practical terms?
Often it can take a while for a change at the top to have any effect on the final product, but Rubin was so integral to Android that we could see subtle shifts very soon. In fact, the first has already happened.
It seems Rubin’s move away from the Android team has already boosted Google’s sometimes fraught relationship with Samsung.
There have been some understandable questions about Sammy’s belief in Android, despite it being the OS that powers its huge selling Galaxy range.
Android got nary a mention at the Galaxy S4’s bizarre launch a couple of weeks ago, for instance.
Samsung mobile exec Kevin Packingham told Business Insider last week that Rubin’s stubbornness had become a sticking point.
Once Rubin had decided on something it was impossible “to get him to deviate from that position,” according to Packingham.
What’s more, Samsung’s man went out of his way to praise Rubin’s successor Sundar Pichai as a “super-nice person,” who is “very collaborative.”
That last word is perhaps the most important. It points to Rubin’s unwillingness to let others pitch in, suggesting a key reason for his move in the first place.
Collaboration is something we’re likely to see more of now that Rubin is gone.
That means improved relationships with manufacturers making Nexus products and perhaps even quicker rollouts of Android updates, a key issue in the ongoing fragmentation debate, which Rubin often dismissed as unimportant.
There may also be a greater willingness to accept the reality of custom skins.
These have caused untold problems in past years and though they have forced Google to improve the stock Android offering massively, they’re still inescapable.
Perhaps with someone less emotionally attached to the OS at the helm, Google will realise that they aren’t going anywhere and give wider support to those who want to tweak the OS for their own ends.
Ultimately, exec moves can only change so much. It’s about the team at large as well as the one guy running the show.
But Rubin’s move could mean a leaner, more agile Android, one which will be ready to continue to dominate at the top of the smartphone charts.