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Google Should Put a Muzzle on Andy Rubin



Is Google’s Andy Rubin off the reservation, speaking the truth, or just dealing with jet lag? At the AsiaD conference that is coinciding with the announcement of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and the Galaxy Nexus phone, Rubin is making some statements that make it sound like:

  1. Google is on the defensive
  2. Google is struggling to find a mobile vision
  3. Google is just not sure about what it is doing
  4. All of the above

Yesterday we reported on Rubin’s troubling statement that he didn’t think there should be a distinction between Tablet and Smart Phone Apps. Given that Google isn’t talking much about Android 4.0 on Tablets yet, that is certainly troubling if not just eye-brow raising. Given that Google’s previous big attempt at Android on Tablets, Honeycomb, seems to be generally classified as a failure (it is certainly going to be bypassed) it makes you wonder if Google has anyone in its stable who understands Tablets. If this were politics Rubin’s statement would be taken as a strategic retreat. In the fast paced world of Mobile Tech, it sounds like, well, a strategic retreat. Especially if you’re a developer.

Google may be looking at a strategy here that aims to pull all of this together and on some levels you can argue for the logic behind that. But given that the Tablet market, currently owned by Apple, is still nascent, Google either needs to show some more coherent leadership here, or its going to see developers not only confused, but delaying any moves that might make Android Tablets begin to make sense. If Rubin is trying to play a Steve Jobs-like game (no one wants video on a small device) he’s not that good at the game.

And now, in the wake of Apple’s introducing Siri, Rubin is quoted as saying “I don’t believe that your phone should be your assistant” and “Your phone is a tool for communicating. You shouldn’t be communicating with the phone; you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone.” Keep in mind, it’s still early in a world with Siri, so the jury is still out on personal assistants on a phone. But also note that Google has been the leader so far, in getting people to talk to their phones to search for data. If Rubin is just trying to deflect or poo-poo the competition he’s doing more harm to his own company’s efforts than he is to the competition. In addition to flying in the face of all sorts of data that says folks use Smart Phones more for data than as phones, Rubin just admitted that Google doesn’t have an answer for Siri that is close enough to pose a serious challenge.

I guess we’re used to executives making silly and harmful statements and that’s just a fact of life. But, at a time when you have the spotlight on your next big thing, it strikes me as more than problematic that Andy Rubin is shooting himself and Google in the foot while it is in his mouth.



  1. Joseph A. Yager

    10/20/2011 at 6:19 am

    I agree – he’s trying a little too hard to put down Siri.  This reminds me of when Sony was telling the world no one wants a video game controller with vibrating feedback.  Until, of course, they added it back in to their controllers and now it totally makes you feel like you’re right in the game…

    • WhySoSerious?

      10/20/2011 at 6:32 am

      The difference is Android already had voice assistant capabilities before iOS. It would have better smarter to take the approach, of “Siri, we already do that, let’s talk something innovative . . .”

      3 years from now people will be saying “Remeber when people tried to work on tablets? Yeah, that was dumb.” Just like “netbooks” before that. The phone is the center of the computing universe, not semi-functional awkward tablet. 

      • Anonymous

        10/20/2011 at 7:17 am

        I agree.  Maybe he’s been asked the question too often, and is just tired of it.  Who knows; the fact is that they boht have voice control, and there are 3rd party apps that add even more options.  Why he would be defensive is anyone’s guess.  But at the same time, there are those jumping to defend Apple for releasing a product that is really catching up to what other phones offer.  The more important question for me is what’s with all of the sudden articles on this site jumping on anyone who has a dissenting opinion about Apple?

      • Anonymous

        10/20/2011 at 5:57 pm

        I have not personally used Siri, but at least based on Slashdot threads, it does more than the voice control in Android..  Or at least it does many things Android voice control does.. (but IIRC, Android voice control can also do dictation into any app??)

        Umm, as far as tablets, the iPad is essentially a superset of the phone, except for the phone functionality itself (though of course there is 3G for data).  So I don’t quite understand your “dumb” comment.

  2. Tim

    10/20/2011 at 7:53 am

    It’s refreshing hear a top tech executive like Rubin speak his mind, instead of the usual overhype BS that gets spewed, especially perfected by Apple. For example, most people roll their eyes when they hear Apple talk of a “post-PC” world, when PC’s work just fine with other devices. Apple BS is fodder of its 1% fans, but it’s far from the reality of the 99%. So, when, the man who is a big part in creating the most used (struggling?) smartphone OS that overshadows Apple’s cashcow, reflects on various things, it’s all good. Google, like real life, is not all peachy keen, there’s debates, there’s differences of opinion. Actually, that further humanizes Google. Maybe this gets other people to reflect more about technology. Maybe tablets will always be a niche PC accessory. It’s interesting that Siri gets associated with cold, ruthless HAL 9000, like the muzzling, controlling, paranoid, vindictive Apple. 

    • Tim Davies

      10/20/2011 at 8:15 am

      It’s all fine and good to be reflective, but while Google is reflective and doing half assed things, Apple has dedicated themselves to an idea and put 100% behind it.

      I really hope Andy’s statement does not reflect on Androids view on Voice Commands/AI development. With Google Search Algorithms they could really have a chance in innovating and perfecting a Android Personal Assistant in natural speaking. Talking to a device is just like searching google, the computer picks out key words and uses a variety of inputs to figure out what the user wants. It calculates and gives you what it thinks your asking for.

      For instance, when I say: “I have to work tomorrow 12pm-3pm, put that in my calendar” The computer see’s 12pm-3pm and associates that with an appointment, which is strengthened by the use of the application word calendar. Work is used as a verb, so its put in as the label for that activity. Hench the computer will make a appointment in your calendar from 12pm-3pm labeled “work”.

      “How do I get to Chopstix from here?” Siri first has to recognize that this is a location based question. The word “here” suggest’s the users current location, so that will prompt a Map search. Siri has to recognize “chopstix” as the destination because of the use of “to chopstix”. Siri will then search “Chopstix” on the map program and pick the first on the list and give you directions from your current location.

      See? I’m not talking to my phone, I’m performing a Google search!!

  3. Adam Truelove

    10/20/2011 at 8:10 am

    While I agree with you, this is no surprise. Companies do this kind of thing all the time.  When Nintendo first came out with motion control for the Wii, Microsoft and Sony both chimed in saying stuff like “No one wants to play games that way.” or “This will never take off.”  Well we all know what happened after that.  They developed their own motion control systems claiming motion control to be the “next big thing”

    • Why So Serious?

      10/20/2011 at 8:30 am

      Except in your example Apple is MSFT and Sony saying this is “next big thing”
      and Google is Nintendo saying “motion control is stoopid”

  4. Paul Curtis

    10/20/2011 at 8:17 am

    GottaBeMobile should put a muzzle on Warner Crocker. Google doesn’t need advice from people who want to muzzle conversations they either don’t like or don’t understand.

  5. Anonymous

    10/20/2011 at 9:47 am

    I haven’t seen the Siri quip in context but it does sound like a silly thing to say.
    But hey – we all say stupid things sometimes.

    As for the tablet/phone comment yesterday I am kind of amazed the tech punditry has taken up arms against it.
    He said nothing provocative or foolish at all.
    It has been well understood for some time the Ice Cream Sandwich was to be a unifying platform for the phones and tablets.  So — why do people, especially tech pundits, expect that there would be any differentiation between tablet and phone apps based on it ? 
    Ice Cream Sandwich has tools for devs to formulate different graphical views of their apps based upon screen size.  It is designed to be visually elastic to accommodate this specifically.  And they are heavily encouraged to do this by Google.  No doubt some won’t.  But bad software design on the part of some devs is not something Google should be blamed for.
    Promoting the idea that apps should be specific to either phone or tablet is as bad as the idea that there should be separate operating systems for the phone and tablet platforms.
    It seems as though his comment was taken to mean that tablet apps would just be upsized phone apps.
    I’m not sure why people familiar with it are taking that meaning at all.

  6. Roberto

    10/20/2011 at 6:01 pm

    Taking one or two sentences without any context is always a crap shoot. It is a bit disappointing to see this site devolve into another Apple fanboy site.

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