John Paczkowski

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Google VP of Engineering Andy Rubin: We’re Building a Nexus One for Enterprise

Andy Rubin

Once an Apple (AAPL) engineer, Andy Rubin went on to co-found mobile computing outfits Danger Inc. and Android, Inc. He sold the former to Microsoft (MSFT) and the latter to Google (GOOG), where he is now now vice president of engineering. He’s also the guy quarterbacking development of the company’s Android mobile operating system and the Nexus One–the smartphone with which Google hopes to fundamentally change the way people buy cellphones.

In conversation with All Things Digital‘s Walt Mossberg today, 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.

Video clip: Highlights from Andy Rubin’s interview.

Walt starts off by asking Rubin about just how involved Google was in the development of 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. … The experiment here is to allow consumers to experience the phone with no pressure, no upsell, they get into a product that best suits their needs.”

Walt: “You have T-Mobile as a launch partner, and the Nexus One is soon going to be available at Verizon and Vodafone. But you convinced T-Mobile to offer a specific plan for this device. T-mobile people told me that. You wanted a specific monthly price.” Why would you get involved in that if you’re separating the phone from service?”

“We’re trying to give consumers the best experience of our services,” Rubin replies. We wanted to provide something simple. People get confused with the current process … I get confused. We wanted a simple way to do it. Like the Google homepage … Simplicity is a big part of this.”

Interesting. Rubin mentions that Google is working on an enterprise version of Nexus One. What would a enterprise version of Nexus One look like? Would it support exchange? It might, says Rubin. “An enterprise version might also have a physical keyboard … it might be a world phone…” But then it’s a different device,” Walt suggests. Rubin: “Yes, it would be a different SKU.”

Video clip: Andy Rubin talks Exchange support and future Nexus One devices.

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 today about people unhappy the customer service Google is providing for the Nexus One; there is only e-mail customer service, and no phone support. “People are being told they’ll have to wait two days for service,” says Walt. “How is this a good experience for consumers.” Rubin concedes that there is no phone support and that there is sometimes a 3-day delay in response time. “We have to get better at customer service,” he says. “We have to close that three day gap to a couple of hours.”

Video clip: Andy Rubin comments on the Nexus One customer service issues.

“So how important to the future is this app ecosystem,” Walt asks. “The app thing is a reflection of how many phones you’ve sold,” Rubin replies. That’s what developers invest in. There was a time when Android had as many apps as Palm has now.” “So on what date will you have 125,000 apps,” Walt asks, referring to Apple’s App Store. Rubin: “Well I’m sure someone could map that out with the right algorithm.”

Moving on to the issue now of 3G network performance, which is 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 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, Rubin says he does use an iPhone. “What do you expect? I’m a gadget guy.”

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