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Sundar Pichai: The genius who could be Google's next CEO

September 19, 2014 12:40 IST
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Image: King of Android, Sundar Pichai. Photograph: Google

If Android One succeeds, it will only cement Pichai's so-called position as the most powerful man in the mobile world.

Sundar Pichai, the global boss of Android, planned a short trip to the Taj Mahal with his team on Tuesday. 

It was, in all probability, the much-needed break after the launch of Android One on the previous day.

India had hosted the worldwide launch of the inexpensive mobile technology and it was spearheaded by Pichai, the Chennai-born senior vice-president of Google Inc.

According to Google executives, the initiative was in the works for almost a year, which makes it one of the first projects that 42-year-old Pichai took on after he was appointed the chief of Google's popular mobile operating system last year. 

Image: Google's senior VP Sundar Pichai speaks during the launch of Android One phones in New Delhi. Photograph: Reuters

Android One is said to be Pichai's pet project. It was conceived keeping India in mind, he said in one of the interviews after the launch. 

There are over 5 billion people in the world who do not have access to internet and one billion of them are in India, Pichai said while making his presentation during the launch. 

Android One is Google's attempt to connect these people with the worldwide web through the mobile phone which is increasingly becoming the first point of contact with the internet for more and more people. 

Google realised that in emerging countries like India, the Android experience was getting significantly diluted since mobile manufacturers were building software layers over it and bundling it with components that were not really compatible with Android. 

This was being done in order to price the products as competitively as possible. To make sure that the user got a good experience through the device, Google decided to provide a reference menu of components which should be bundled together. 

While device manufacturers will still be allowed to build phones according to their specifications, the phones made on the Android One platform are expected to perform better. 

The programme provides a quality certificate from Google for the smartphone in a highly competitive market. Google will also offer users free updates on the operating system.

However, analysts have started doubting the success of the programme since it still leaves the field open for manufacturers to launch products outside of Android One.

Many fear that since the devices on the Android One platform may be expensive to build, both manufacturers and users may choose price over quality.

Image: Sundar Pichai confident of Android One’s success. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

However, Pichai is very confident of its success, and people expressing cynicism about his projects is not new to him. 

Early on in his career at Google, which he joined in 2004 after a stint at Applied Material and McKinsey, Pichai floated the idea of a new browser. 

The suggestion was not very well received since it was thought that there was no need for another browser. 

Today, Chrome is the leading web browser in the world, displacing Microsoft's Internet Explorer which dominated the market for decades. 

Image: Attendees gather at the Android developer sandbox during the Google I/O Conference. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

Pichai studied at IIT Kharagpur, followed by Stanford University in the US. He also did his MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. 

Pichai, who directly reports to Google Chief Executive and co-founder Larry Page, is rumoured to have been approached for the top job at Microsoft after Steve Ballmer announced his resignation (the job went to Satya Nadella, another Indian), and is also speculated to be in the running for the post of Google CEO whenever it gets vacant.

Since taking over the Android division from Andy Rubin, Pichai has worked towards bettering the collaboration between Google's other departments on Android as well as the company's relations with its key partners such as Samsung. 

If Android One succeeds, it will only cement Pichai's so-called position as the most powerful man in the mobile world.

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