Google’s Barra going to work for the “Apple of China”

The mobile tech industry is abuzz over the news of Google executive Hugo Barra’s departure for a new job at Chinese smartphone-maker Xiaomi.  And it’s not just because his move was reported on the same day that news broke that the married-but-separated Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, is now seeing a Google staffer whom Barra reportedly used to date.

Barra, a vice president for product management at Google, is a well-known leader in the company’s Android division, often appearing onstage at industry events to show off the latest features of Google’s Android software and Nexus devices.  His resignation is the second high-profile departure from Google’s Android business after longtime chief Andy Rubin stepped down to move into a still-undisclosed role at Google earlier this year.

The departure doesn’t necessarily mean Android is adrift, since the business is now overseen by senior vice president Sundar Pichai, a well-regarded figure in the company. So far, there’s not much evidence of change in Google’s use of Android, although Pichai also oversees the company’s other software platform, Chrome.

But Barra’s new employer is an emerging powerhouse in the Android ecosystem. The fast-growing Xiaomi is sometimes called “the Apple of China” in Western press reports because it has mimicked Apple’s approach to selling high-end smartphones in that huge market. Xiaomi’s flagship Android phone is called the MiPhone, and CEO Lei Jun often appears in black shirt and jeans like Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Analysts are saying that Barra’s stature in the industry makes him an ideal executive to lead Xiaomi’s efforts to expand outside China.  He also could be a valuable ambassador to Google, since he knows the company’s Android strategy so well.

Still, some have noted that Xiaomi’s relationship with Google may not be as warm as those of other Android phone-makers.  Xiaomi uses the Android operating system, which Google distributes at no charge, but it strips out the Google Play app store and other services that provide revenue for Google.

Google wished Barra well in a statement issued late Wednesday.  Barra also thanked his recent employer in a post on his Google+ account.

(Photo of Hugo Barra by Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group)




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