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Ina Fried

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Android’s Co-Founder: Developers Can Now Afford to Wait on iPhone

As recently as six months ago, the founder of Android was recommending that start-ups focus on the iPhone first and then move to Android.

That’s because Rich Miner’s day job these days is heading the East Coast wing of Google Ventures, the venture capital arm of the Internet giant. And as a money guy, Miner said that, until very recently, the money was still in making apps for the iPhone.

“There were just that many more handsets out there,” Miner said, speaking on stage at the MobileBeat conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. “That has clearly flipped.”

Miner said that Android, which was little more than some demos and PowerPoint slides when Google acquired it, is now a major player and, in many ways, a better option for start-ups. In part, he said, that’s because it is easier for users to develop and test applications because it supports side-loading of programs so that companies can test out and refine their ideas before launching them.

Miner has plenty of money to put where his mouth is. His Google-backed fund has $100 million to invest each year, Miner said, with investments so far in areas as diverse as automotive to clean tech to Internet companies. At the event, Miner announced that Google Ventures has invested in two mobile companies, Crittercism and Astrid.

Miner said that the goal of Google Ventures is to make money, not to push Google’s various platforms and strategies. That said, Miner said his tie to Google is a big advantage, giving him a Google badge, a deep rolodex and “Google Goggles.”

“We can see the world through Google’s eyes,” Miner said.

Of course, things weren’t always that way for Miner.

He noted that Android wasn’t originally looking to sell itself to Google. The small self-funded start-up was just going around raising money, pitching companies on the value and importance of having an open smartphone operating system. Miner said that Larry Page immediately latched on to the idea, while then-CEO Eric Schmidt and Sergei Brin were less focused on mobile at that point.

Since then, Miner said, Brin and Schmidt have become experts in wireless.

“All three came to be champions,” he said.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik