Once an Apple engineer, Andy Rubin went on to co-found mobile computing outfits Danger and Android. He sold the former to Microsoft and the latter to Google, where he is now vice president of engineering. He's also the guy quarterbacking development of Google's Android mobile operating system and the Nexus One--the smartphone with which Google hopes to fundamentally change the way people buy cell phones.
In conversation with All Things Digital's Walt Mossberg Friday, Rubin talked about the mobile space, Google's plan for an enterprise version of the Nexus One, and its vision for the way phones should be bought and sold.
Walt starts off by asking Rubin about just how involved Google was in the development of the Nexus One.
Rubin replies, "We threw out crazy ideas to our partners at HTC, and they were pretty good about plucking the good ones out of the air and building them into the device."
Walt asks about the new business model Google's launched in concert with Nexus One. Was this something the company planned all along?
"This is the next phase of Android--taking the newest versions of the product, placing them online, and allowing consumers to purchase them directly," says Rubin. "What we've learned is that there are more efficient ways of connecting consumers with the phones they'd like to purchase...easier ways." Purchasing a Nexus One through Google, says Rubin, is a casual process. "No one's breathing down your neck," he says. "No one's trying to upsell you."
Interesting. Rubin mentions that Google is working on an enterprise version of Nexus One. What's an enterprise version of Nexus One like? Does it support Exchange? Rubin says it might, but steers the conversation to Gmail and other Google services. He also notes that it might have a real keyboard.
The Nexus One is aimed at consumers who love their Google services and live in the "Google world," Walt notes. Yet, Google is encouraging developers to build new apps for Android and Nexus One. How do you reconcile that? Isn't there something contradictory to saying "we're an app platform, we're open," and then turning around and saying "we're really a platform for people who love Google?"
Rubin obviously doesn't think so. He stresses that an OS can't be successful unless people are developing for it. "It reminds me of the accessory business," he says. "The most successful phones have the most earbuds, car chargers, etc."
Walt wonders if Rubin is at all surprised by the size of the apps revolution, by the fact that there are 100,000-plus apps in the iTunes Apps Store.
"I'm not surprised by it at all. This is what happens when you drop the barriers to entry," he says, recalling how difficult it once was for developers to distribute their apps and how easy it is today.
This new purchasing model Google has created for the Nexus One puts the company at the center of the experience. People who purchase the Nexus One think of themselves as Google customers. Rubin says, "What we've done here is to offer a mobile platform where people don't have to worry about the plumbing."
Walt notes reports about people unhappy the customer service Google is providing for the Nexus One; there is only e-mail customer service, and no phone support. Rubin concedes that there is no phone support and that there is sometimes a three-day delay in response time. "We have to get better at customer service," he says, adding that for launch, they are doing great.
Moving on to the issue now of 3G network performance, which has been a very real issue at CES, especially for AT&T. Rubin says Moore's Law applies to bandwidth--4G is on its way, and after that 5G. Walt suggests that the addition of new phones like the Nexus One and the host of other superphones is going to exacerbate the problem. Rubin says that doesn't have to happen; if carriers were more on point and did what was necessary to maintain and upgrade their networks, dropped calls, etc., would not be as much of an issue as they are for some carriers today.
In his interview with Kara Swisher earlier, Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein--a former Apple engineer--said, "I don't have an iPhone. I've never even used one." In contrast, for those who may be wondering, Andy Rubin says he does use an iPhone. "What do you expect? I'm a gadget guy."