Yesterday brought a flurry of unexpected news from Google that turned the Internet on its head, even temporarily distracting the tech media from the impending announcement of the Samsung Galaxy S4. First, there was the announcement that Andy Rubin, the man in charge of the direction of the Android OS since its inception as an independent project, is moving on. You can read a bit more about it here at our sister site, Phandroid.
While it looks likely that Rubin will remain with Google, at least for the time being, he is no longer associated with Android. Based on Larry Page’s comments on the subject, there is a lot of speculation that Rubin will head a startup project within Google, or possibly join Google X, the company’s experimental “shoot for the moon” division. In the meantime, Sundar Pichai, who had been working on Google’s Chrome browser and Chrome OS up until now, will assume the role of lead over Android at Google.
As if the man at the helm of the world’s most used mobile OS (and Apple’s main competitor in the space) wasn’t big enough news, Google also announced that it will be pulling the plug on Google Reader in July (see additional info from both iSource and Phandroid). Ouch. The closest parallels I can draw would be Johnson and Johnson killing off the Band-Aid brand, or Scotch ceasing to sell adhesive tape. Reader is that pervasive when it comes to getting your RSS feeds. This has, of course sent users scrambling for alternatives to a product that they have relied on for many years, regardless of their chosen platform.
So, the product that has basically become the personification of RSS for the majority of its users is going away, but probably not as quietly as Google would prefer. There is already a petition at Change.org with over 80,000 signers asking Google to keep the service alive. I don’t expect this to have any impact, but who knows. Maybe if that number swells over a million, Google will take notice. Short of that kind of grassroots support, however, it is unlikely that they will change course. Time to move on.
In the interest of moving on, what does all this mean for Apple users? More than you might think, on the surface. First of all, the departure of Andy Rubin from Android marks the end of chapter one of the story of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. This is a tale that will surely continue for many, many years, but a shift is definitely underway. Who knows what changes it will bring about, but the management upheaval at Apple several months ago, combined with Rubin’s departure could potentially mark new directions and bold moves for both of the top competitors in mobile.
With the departure of Scott Forstall, the head over iOS since its creation, Jony Ive has taken over the responsibility of UI design over all of Apple’s products, including iOS. It is impossible to predict what changes this move may bring, since we only know Mr Ive’s design sensibilities as they apply to hardware. However, his incredible, award winning skill in that department is enough to get iOS users everywhere excited. We probably won’t hear much of anything definite until WWDC this summer, but Apple fans everywhere are excited to see what changes are in store.
One thing to note, however, is the timeline of all these changes. While the beginning of this new era is close at hand, iOS 7 was surely well into its development when the management changes took place. We are left to wonder over the next couple of months just how much new direction we will actually see in such a short period of time. Considering that iOS 6 was more of an incremental bump than a monumental upgrade, the fans and tech media will be expecting a lot this time out.
On the other hand, we now have Android in the hands of Pichai Sundar, a man who has had a big influence over Google’s juggernaut of a browser, Chrome. This choice is interesting because of the seemingly divergent paths that Chrome and the Chrome OS and Android have been on. One is focused on minimalism and HTML 5 as a complete and open interface, while the other makes use of these tools, but is focused on delivering power, a high level of customization, and app experiences that are tailored specifically to mobile.
Despite these differences, however, the two platforms have taken on some common features recently. Chrome has become the default browser for Android, which has been almost universally seen as an upgrade. On the other side, Google recently released the new Pixel Chromebook, which sports a touchscreen among its many features. So, while these two OSs seem inherently different, there is also plenty of room for convergence, as well.
With Android, you also have to consider the increasing influence that Matias Duarte has had on the platform. His hands seem to be all over the interface overhaul that we’ve seen in Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean. Whether you like or use Android or not, it would be foolish to try and deny the positive impact that he’s had over the last two and a half years. With this said, it will be very interesting to see how things play out. How will Duarte’s vision for Android’s interface dovetail with Pichai, and the potential for influences from Chrome and Chrome OS? That’s a very interesting question.
Basically, we have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen with either Android or iOS through these changes. It would be foolish to think that these new teams will try and re-invent the wheel, since the existing versions seem to be very, very popular. However, you can’t have this much personnel turnover and not have ANY impact. Something’s going to change. We just don’t know what or when quite yet.
There are no crystal balls here. Anyone that tells you differently is making a guess, no matter how educated it might be. As for me, I’m not even going to bother. I’m content to sit back and wait to see the impact of all this new blood and change within both Apple and Google. With new people and fresh eyes can come new ideas and innovation. Here’s hoping that both sides prosper through these changes, and that we, the tech consumer community, benefit from the competition.
While Rubin’s departure has indirect impact on Apple and iOS, the loss of Google Reader will be felt much more directly by a large number of iOS users. There are so many widely used apps, such as Reeder and Flipboard, which make use of Google Reader as a conduit to deliver RSS feeds to users. In the case of Reeder, it is their ONLY conduit at this time.
So, now we have a situation where plenty of paid news reader apps for both Android and iOS will cease to function on July 1. I’m sure many developers will be exploring options and alternatives to keep their apps working. However, some developers may have moved on from some of the older news apps out there, so there is absolutely no guarantee that we will all get updates to the apps that we have grown to love and trust.
Of course, a shift like this is also an opportunity for innovation. Google’s departure from RSS will leave a massive vacuum, which several developers will seek to fill with alternatives to and retrofits of Reader. Time will tell what services will win and lose in this race to fill the void, but there is definitely an opportunity available to those willing to step up and build a better mousetrap.
The death of Google Reader is a good reminder of a couple of things. First, no matter how open a platform or company is, you had better be careful when you build an app or service on top of someone else’s system. There are a lot of Twitter app developers who have learned this lesson the hard way. Now Google Reader app developers are unfortunately about to join the club.
The second thing to remember is that Google is a company- a publicly traded company with a CEO, a Board of Directors, and most important of all, shareholders. There are a lot of fanboys and tech pundits out there who seem to view Google as some utopian philanthropic organization that is seeking to better the world through technology, but that just isn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong. Google does a lot of good things. While I’m not trying to say that Google is evil at all, I am saying that people got an unmistakable reminder that Google is a business, and a business has to make money for the shareholders. They are actually bound by law to do this. As such, they made a business decision to pull the plug on Reader.
A company as successful as Google would never actively seek to step on its loyal customers. However, sometimes large companies do make decisions that hurt a few, so that they can do things that they feel will be more successful and benefit more users in the log run. They seem to think that moving everyone and everything to Google+ (News, Sharing, Picasa, Groups, etc) is the future, and that is the direction they are heading, full steam ahead. Only time will tell whether this will ultimately be a better use of their resources than keeping a skeleton crew watching over Reader. However, I would be willing to stake cash money on the fact that, come July 1, Reader will be dead and gone. Google isn’t going to reconsider. They have already moved on. It’s time for all of us to move on, as well. It isn’t personal. It’s business.
Yesterday was a great microcosm of the world of technology. We all woke up thinking all we would hear about was the latest Galaxy S4 rumors and a new Pope. And then boom! Out of nowhere, we get two important stories from a major company that came completely out of left field. As for me, I was on the road home yesterday (and I normally listen to recorded podcasts while driving), and then had to pack for a little Spring Break trip with the kids as soon as I got home. I didn’t even know about these stories until I caught up on Twitter at 10 PM last night. I was pretty surprised, to say the least. But then again, that’s the world of technology. Blink your eyes, and the head of a major OS and a service we have depended on for years are gone. And what will the impact of these events be? Who knows, but I look forward to watching the unfolding changes that they bring.