Android vice president quits for Chinese phone maker

Defection marks a major win for Chinese upstart

Shona Ghosh
29 Aug 2013

A senior Android product manager has unexpectedly quit Google to work for Xiaomi, a manufacturer of Android-based smartphones known as the "Apple of China".

Hugo Barra joined Google in 2008 from speech recognition firm Nuance, spearheading development of the mobile OS and overseeing design updates to its user interface. He was also a high-profile public face for Android, most recently showing off the Nexus 7 tablet to the press in June.

His move is a win for Xiaomi, apparently the first smartphone manufacturer to poach a senior staffer from the Android team. The move follows Android founder Andy Rubin's decision to step down in March.

China's Apple

Xiaomi currently sells phones only in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The company has grown rapidly since its founding in 2010, and according to Canalys is now the sixth biggest phone maker in China. Its 5% market share places it ahead even of Apple, currently on 4.8% - though that may change if the rumoured cut-price iPhone, reportedly targeted at China, sees the light of day.

Barra said his new role would involve building Xiaomi's product portfolio and expanding the business globally - suggesting a potential challenge to the likes of Samsung and Apple.

"I’m really looking forward to this new challenge, and am particularly excited about the opportunity to continue to help drive the Android ecosystem," he said.

If Google is worried at seeing partners poaching its staff, it isn't showing it.

"We'll all miss him at Google and we're excited that he is staying within the Android ecosystem," a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Some have suggested that Barra's departure may be connected to a complex personal entanglement at Google, involving a relationship between Barra's former girlfriend and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Google confirmed that Brin had separated from his wife, but it's understood that Barra's departure is unrelated.

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