Google’s Rich Miner Says Timing Is Everything for Android: Three Thoughts from Mobile Monday

8/17/10Follow @gthuang

Rich Miner was no Billie Joe Armstrong. But I can’t say I’m too sad to have missed Green Day’s concert at Great Woods (Comcast Center) to attend Mobile Monday at Google in Kendall Square last night. OK, maybe I can. But I did pull out a few interesting nuggets from the presentations and demos, which were given to a packed house of 150 or so:

1. Android is breathing down Apple’s neck.

Google site director Steven Vinter said that 60-plus smartphones run the Android operating system. What’s more, he said 20 or so new kinds of tablet computers will come out in the next six months, and “a number” of them will run Android. Some more adoption stats: More than a million Android phones are sold every week, involving 59 wireless carriers worldwide, and 49 countries are selling the handsets. And there are 70,000-plus Android apps, and growing. “A huge development community is emerging,” Vinter said.

2. Half of all Web traffic will come from mobile devices by 2013.

That stat was quoted by Adam Compain of Google AdWords (based on comScore data). Web searching on mobile devices, he said, is much more personal, local, and connected than on PCs. So look for even more opportunities in smart couponing and location-based services. Also, the phone “is becoming less of a phone,” and is being used more for consumption of things like videos on YouTube, he said. Compain added that Google is “looking to understand the behavior of people on mobile,” and how to translate that knowledge for marketers and consumers. (Companies like Seattle’s Ground Truth would be interested to hear about that.)

3. Android’s timing was perfect.

“As a VC, this is a story of a startup,” said Rich Miner, a partner at Google Ventures. He shared a few pearls of wisdom about the history of Android, which he co-founded with Andy Rubin, Nick Sears, and Chris White. Android was acquired by Google in mid-2005, right before it was about to raise a financing round.

Miner had helped launch the first Windows Mobile phone, almost 8 years ago, when he was at Orange, the European mobile operator. “I thought Microsoft might own the phone in everyone’s pocket,” he said, because it was a “pretty good phone.” But over the next few years, he said, “all other players, except Apple, were fumbling. Microsoft fumbled horribly. For a huge amount of time, they lost their way, Nokia lost their way…and Motorola has now embraced Android.”

“The time was right” for a Linux-based, open-source mobile operating system, he said. “The world back then [around 2005-2007] was very broken. Carriers were frustrated at handsets. For developers, it was almost impossible to get apps on phones.” But Google saw the huge opportunity for building an open platform, he said.

And other factors have fallen into place too. “Android couldn’t happen at a different point in time,” Miner said. There has been a convergence of features like touch input, high-fidelity screens, longer battery life, and greater processing power—things you need a powerful operating system for. “We couldn’t have done that at any other point in time. All these things lining up…was tremendously important,” he said.

Mobile Monday BostonLastly, I caught the first demo of the night. Rue La La, a Boston-based private-sale (invitation-only) discount apparel site, said it has partnered up with Brookline, MA-based Raizlabs to create an app for Android smartphones that will roll out in two weeks. This follows Rue La La’s app on the iPhone and iPad earlier this year, which untethered the company’s membership base and has encouraged more sharing and social features for consumers—basically they can shop for premium clothing with their friends, wherever they are. Next up: a BlackBerry app.

And one more note: perhaps Google’s hosting of Mobile Monday will make people in the local tech startup and developer community complain a little less about the company’s lack of visibility at events. I used to hear the same thing about Google in Seattle (it has sizeable offices there), but not so much anymore.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://www.talentgraphz.com Tom Summit

    Hi Gregory, thanks for the link to “Hey Google! can you come out and play?”. Was I complaining? I thought it was a playful plea for a bigger presence here in the Hub. ;-)

    Google’s presence in NYC is credited with helping to revitalize the web scene there. We can always use some more Web mojo here in Boston as well. Glad to see the change is coming.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ghuang/ Gregory T. Huang

    Tom, thanks for your note—that might have been a poor choice of word on my part. But I have heard mild complaints from others, both here and in Seattle, about how it can be hard to engage with Google at local events as a developer. I do think that’s changing.

    Greg

  • http://www.shinyorb.com Elizabeth

    Nice article, Gregory. I think that it was also critical that Android rolled out via Google, a large tech company with few conflicting interests. I’d think that a startup or a large mobile company with potentially conflicting motivations would really struggle in pulling together the massive Open Handset Alliance (http://www.openhandsetalliance.com/) that Google was able to bring together in a relatively short timespan.

  • Gregory T.Huang

    Elizabeth, thanks for your comment—that’s absolutely true. Rich Miner made that point about Google and stressed the importance of the Open Handset Alliance.

    Greg