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Posted: 04:38:11 PM, 29/11/2012

Robotics passion inspires Android creator

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In true startup to hot stuff fashion, the Android operating system had to go through numerous hurdles before investors started paying attention, eventually establishing it as the fastest growing software platform that we know today.

Creator Andy Rubin had just left his first job as a chief executive at Danger, the startup that built the Sidekick handset. "It was one of the first cellphones where you got a real Internet experience including instant messaging and browsing," said Rubin in an interview in Building 45 of the Google campus as it was being outfitted to handle an expanding Android staff.

During a break in the Cayman Islands in 2003 to ponder what he wanted to do next, Rubin initially "set out to do the same thing for digital cameras, to create the concept of smart cameras like smartphones," he said.

Upon further study he found the market for digital cameras was flat at about 30 million units a year. "We could give it a boost, but it wasn't going to dramatically change things, so we rejiggered," he said.

The idea for an open source operating system for smartphones emerged as the best shot at making a big splash. The name Android reflected Rubin's lifelong passion for robotics. But back in Silicon Valley potential investors were unimpressed.




Andy Rubin
Andy Rubin: What would make people bet their livelihood on our platform would not be having marginally better technology, but factors like having a payment system and other things surrounding the platform

"They said he was trying to boil the ocean, that he would need 10 million phones running Android for this to make sense and they rolled their eyes as if that was absurd," recalled Steve Perlman, a serial entrepreneur who helped introduce Rubin to potential investors and had been his senior at Apple and startups General Magic and Web TV.

At one point, things got so desperate for Rubin he was about to be evicted. He reached out to Perlman just down the street in Palo Alto, Calif., who walked over $10,000 in hundred dollar bills in a manila envelope as the first installment of a larger gift.
"Eventually, he got funding and returned the favor when he got acquired by Google and they paid my rent for next 18 months," Perlman quipped.

Rubin recruited former colleagues to form his core team at his new startup. Chris White from Web TV was "a trusted innovator in user interfaces" and among the first to see the need to "get maps deeply integrated in the platform," Rubin said.

Brian Swetland from Danger became "one of the best engineers on Android and created a lot of the architecture and frameworks for it," said Rubin. "He's a big advocate of open source and helped us figure out the right licenses to usehe has a great moral compass in open source," he said.
Former colleagues Rich Miner and Nick Sears had backgrounds at carriers Orange and T-Mobile respectively, assets valuable in creating business and marketing strategies.

Ironically, the team's decision to use Java but not the Java virtual machine developed by Sun Microsystems later landed it in a high profile court case. Oracle acquired Sun and claimed the Android team infringed its patent rights in a court case where the initial decisions went in Google's favor.


Java choice
The team briefly had toyed with the idea of developing its own programming language, before it chose Java.
"What would make people bet their livelihood on our platform would not be having marginally better technology, but factors like having a payment system and other things surrounding the platform," said Rubin. "At that Aha moment we realized we didn't want to write a programming language, we wanted to catch the next wave, so we chose Java because all the major universities were teaching it," he said.
Archrival Apple gets some credit for Android's success. Its iPhone broke the carriers' hold over handsets, giving phones access to the open Web and third-party developers. And Apple's exclusive deal with AT&T created powerful demand at rival Verizon for an alternative.

Motorola made a big bet on Android as part of its turnaround in handsets, winning Verizon's backing, a huge win for Google. Hungry for a broadly supported mobile Linux variant, handset makers such as HTC, LG and Samsung were early Android adopters. A broad group of embedded systems companies were quick to adapt the code to their needs for everything from glucose pumps to rice cookers.
In a June interview, Rubin crowed Android hit a new milestone with 1.17 million handset activations a day and 400 million devices shipped to date. Today, "Android is in a good position to drive" interoperability across an ecosystem that includes handsets, laptops and TVs, said Rubin.
Android's flexibility is something of a curse, Perlman noted. For example, he spent three days debugging problems on a tablet using a Samsung application processor that never occurred on a handset using the same chip.
Aside from such "inherent problems" of an open platform, he praised Rubin's rapid rise "from an individual contributor [at Apple, General Magic and Web TV] to a team leader.
"To do what he is doing at Google, he's got to manage people, partner relationships, be a good witness on the stand, and a bunch of things I'm sure never dawned on him in the early days," said Perlman. "He's been part of the reinvention of Google, and risen in prominence at the company to become more central to what they are doing," he said.
For Rubin, the open mobile world is like a return to his roots as a computer science student in 1976, tinkering with his first microcomputer hobbyist kit. "Teams of one could do a lot then, and that was empowering," he said.
Likewise today, Rubin finds himself surprised with what companies are doing with Android. "All that's happening without me, I don't need to be in any business negotiation, they are just running fast and the last thing I want to do is slow anyone down," he said.
Android's future is as unpredictable as was its genesis, he added. "You know you are at the right place and time when everything alignsbetter batteries, mobile processors, capacitive touch screens, 3Geverything fell into place and no one could have expected it," he said.
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