Wrist envy: Can Sundar Pichai and his smartwatch finally give Google hardware cred?

By Nathaniel Mott , written on March 22, 2013

From The News Desk

Sundar Pichai taking over Android makes a lot more sense now. The Financial Times reports that Google, like Samsung, LG, Apple, Guoke, and probably a dozen other companies is developing a smartwatch, and that the Android division is in charge of the project. This smartwatch, together with the rumored X Phone and X Tablet, would be among Google's first forays into hardware development, and the first Android-powered (I'm assuming) devices built solely by the Mountain View-based company.

The report comes after the release of the Chromebook Pixel, the first Google-built laptop, which was released under Pichai's purview. And, if Google's smartwatch is anything like other smartwatches and its Glass product, it will likely have to work well with Android (and, potentially, iOS) devices. Enter Pichai.

As Google's senior VP of Chrome and Apps, Pichai has built or helped foster Google Chrome, Google Drive, Gmail, Calendar, and the recent updates to Google's best-in-class iOS applications. He leads the team responsible for making Google's products work across a variety of browsers, operating systems, and form factors, and now it seems that Pichai will lead Google's consumer hardware efforts as well. The Android team is going to need someone experienced at doing both in order to release a smartwatch that works well and can compete in a market that seems crowded before most companies even acknowledge its existence.

Pichai has another speciality: Refining existing products and holding them to an ever-higher standard. Google Chrome is constantly updated and works well on Windows, OS X, Android, and iOS, as do Google's other consumer products. Many of these updates aren't ostentatious or worth noting beyond their many small bug fixes, but they continuously refine products that are already considered best-in-class.

That commitment to evolution over revolution will become increasingly important as Google -- and Android -- prepare to introduce more first-party hardware. It isn't enough for a smartwatch to work well on its own -- it needs to work well with smartphones as well. The same goes for smartphones and tablets, desktop computers and notebooks. These platforms are all starting to converge, and it makes sense for one person to be in charge of each.

Andy Rubin, who co-founded Android and ran the company-slash-division until earlier this month, is said to have been much more focused on running his own show and releasing revolutionary products. A smartwatch, and the Android division as a whole, don't offer that opportunity.

Smartwatches are boring. Despite all the hype, the high-profile Kickstarter projects, and the sheer number of companies said to be entering the market, smartwatches aren't revolutionary. They're built on top of everything that came before them, whether that applies to previous smartwatches and fitness trackers or smartphones and tablets. They're familiar, unlike self-driving cars and Glass.

That isn't to say that smartwatches don't have a place. People seem to like their smartwatches -- until they break, anyway -- and some companies, like MYO, offer a glance at what smartwatches might look like once they do more than track our movements and serve as an extension of our smartphones. But the devices are much less novel than other efforts within Google, and it seems that Rubin would rather work on those projects.

While the news that Google's smartwatch would be developed by its Android division was surprising -- why develop two wearable computing devices with two different divisions? -- Android's history with mobile products and constant refinement and its hardware-heavy future make it the right place for the product to be developed. And Pichai seems to be the right guy to lead the division as it, and Google as a whole, bring all of their myriad products together under one roof.

[Image via google apps central]