Sundar Pichai stepped into one the most important jobs at one of the most important companies in the world when he became CEO of Google last fall.
As other Alphabet spin-offs try to revolutionise medicine or usher in the age of the smart home, Pichai is in charge of making sure well-known Google products like Search, YouTube, and Android continue to flourish (and gush out enough ad revenue to fund all those other moonshots).
In an interesting, in-depth profile on Pichai, Buzzfeed’s Mat Honan explores how a big part of Google’s future relies on its ability to maintain its marketshare in India as the country’s massive population rapidly comes online.
As the “next billion” users connect to the internet, Google wants to make sure that those people get their first taste through its products and services. The company looks well-positioned to make that happen, thanks in part to one of Pichai’s most important accomplishments at Google before coming CEO: bringing the Android effort into Google’s fold.
Before Pichai took over Android from previous boss Andy Rubin in 2013, it was a much more siloed business, run almost completely separately from Google. Several execs told Honan that they credit Pichai with creating a much “deeper level of collaboration” and making the platform much more integrated with all of Google’s products and services across device-types.
Android and its suite of Google services are now the key to the company’s success in India and other emerging markets.
Ben Thompson, who write the Stratechery newsletter, goes so far as to call this unification Pichai’s “greatest achievement to date.”
India is shaping up to be a mobile-first country. Right now, only 26% of India’s population owns a smartphone, but those people make up almost all of the internet users. And Android accounts for 64% of the market.
Notably, that big market share is for Android the operating system, not the company’s latest Nexus 6P flagship phone or its super-cheap “Android One” smartphones. Google launched Android One in India in September 2014, but the initial effort, spearheaded by Pichai, flopped due to low consumer interest, and was reportedly on the road to a reboot in the fall.
A big goal of One was to get more users to Google’s services and its struggles underscore the point that if Android hadn’t started focusing on integrating with those products back in 2013 under Pichai’s leadership, its current operating system marketshare lead would be much less useful today.
Google still has its work cut out for it in India. As former Googler Keval Desai pointed out to Business Insider in December, many Indian Android users access the internet through messaging apps like WhatsApp. One of Google’s big challenges will be its ability to become a destination site in India or to build its own successful messaging app.
It’s not a certain future, but thanks to Pichai’s work in 2013, the company has set the stage for that success.