Remembering The Genius of Andy Rubin

Andy Rubin

Some time today, some other site—probably The Verge—will post a more in-depth remembrance of Andy Rubin. Until then, this will have to do.

Just to be clear, the man’s not dead, but he has officially parted ways with Google. Their loss, really. A key architect in what is now the world’s most popular operating system, Rubin has actually struck mobile gold twice in his career so far.

Anyone remember the hiptop/Sidekick? That was his, too.

The Anti-BlackBerry

I got my first hiptop—the Fido-branded equivalent of the T-Mobile Sidekick—in January, 2005. I liked it so much that when its successor came out only a few months later I bought a pair of them, to make sure I always had a hiptop at my side.

There was really nothing else like it on the market at the time. My older brothers and their wives all had BlackBerries, and the hiptop was an anti-BlackBerry—the polar opposite of RIM’s staid and conservative messaging device. When you used a hiptop everyone around you immediately knew it, mostly by the pronounced shunk of its swivel-screen being flipped out, revealing a full qwerty keypad underneath that was arguably better than a BlackBerry. I thought so, anyway.

For me the real genius of the hiptop was the unlimited data plan that came with it. Sure, it was only GPRS, but for a mere $20/month I could email and surf the web on a full browser (rendered on a 240 x 160 pixel screen) to my heart’s content. It even had an app store! And long before Google Calendar had a mobile device to sync to, hiptops and Sidekicks gave users a desktop mirror of their personal data. Too bad it wasn’t https

That Rubin’s company was able to broker such an incredible offer through major carriers in the United States, Canada, the UK, Germany, Australia and Singapore would have made his former boss Steve Jobs quite proud. But Rubin wasn’t done yet…

Andy

In 2005, the same year I acquired my first hiptop, Google acquired Android, Inc. Co-founded by Rubin in 2003, Android was originally intended to be an OS for digital cameras, but the company quickly (and correctly) changed direction to focus on smartphones. In what has to be one of the bigger business blunders of the early 21st century, Samsung famously passed on Android before Google grabbed it.

I can’t find a citation to back me up on this, but I’m almost positive that Android’s green robot is named “Andy”, after its creator.

Before its début on the T-Mobile G1, Android’s development was a closely-guarded secret, as Google did not want to upset their close partnership with Apple—a partnership that saw Google products enjoying great success on the iPhone. Indeed, the G1 was actually hobbled out of the gate just to appease Steve Jobs—it shipped without multi-touch support to avoid a lawsuit from Cupertino.

It wasn’t until 2009 and the original Moto Droid that Android saw its first real success. And the rest, they say, is history.

Moving On

The last time I saw Andy Rubin on stage was in December of 2011, as I watched a livestream of the Galaxy Nexus/Ice Cream Sandwich launch from Hong Kong. In 2013 Rubin left the Android team but remained at Google; yesterday it was confirmed that he’s leaving the company altogether. Parting words from Larry Page:

I want to wish Andy all the best with what’s next. With Android he created something truly remarkable-with a billion plus happy users. Thank you.

As one of those billion-plus happy users I also want to express my gratitude… And while we’re at it, thanks for the hiptop, too!

Further Reading:

Believe in the Network
Andy Rubin on Wikipedia
A Smartphone Fanboy’s Christmas Wish Come True