SAN FRANCISCO — Today and Tuesday I’m covering the “Dive into Mobile” conference started by the All Things D group affiliated with the Wall Street Journal.
Today’s speaker is Andy Rubin, vice president of mobile platforms at Google, who started discussing the Nexus One phone the company tried selling directly to consumers through a special online store in January.
The company today announced its successor, the Nexus S, which is being sold through Best Buy and pre-provisioned with T-Mobile service.
With Nexus One, “we bit off a little bit more than we could chew,” Rubin said, explaining that the “European” approach of selling direct to consumers and requiring them to hook up with a carrier on their own didn’t work in the U.S.
The Nexus One was available with T-Mobile service and the company was working to make it available with Verizon service, but the company decided to end the experiment and put its effort into the software. It closed the online store last summer.
Both Nexus phones were intended to showcase Google’s Android software, which has been a hit since it was released two years ago. Rubin said it’s on 172 different phones in about 50 countries.
He attributed Android’s success to “A, pretty good software, and B, it’s open.”
Rubin, a former Apple engineer, was diplomatic when hosts Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher pressed him to discuss competing with the iPhone maker.
“Certainly they make great consumer products,” he said.
Rubin said he sees Apple moving “in this other end of the spectrum,” in services beyond devices.
Services were the big business Google was pursuing when it began developing Android.
“If that’s the razor, the blades are these services — these things you keep creating and innovating … and selling over time,” he said.
Mossberg asked if Apple has the DNA to do that, and noted its early challenges with the mobile services.
“My assumption is Apple is a company that learns from its mistakes,” Rubin said.
Mossberg and Swisher got Rubin to say that Android is a profitable business for Google.
Rubin also disclosed that Google’s been talking to Nokia about finally developing Android based phones. There’s a new opportunity with Nokia getting new leadership, Rubin said, but he didn’t mention that the new head of Nokia is a former Microsoft executive, Stephen Elop, who was president of Microsoft’s Business division..
“They’re evaluating what their options are,” Rubin said of Google’s success persuading Nokia to try Android.
Asked about Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform, Rubin said he thinks Microsoft’s design team made a good bet with its unique interface but he gave it the classic mixed compliment.
“It’s a good 1.0 product,” he said.
Rubin said that if he was an advisor to Microsoft he would suggest they take Android’s route more than Apple’s, and let phone makers and carriers “differentiate so every Windows Phone 7 doesn’t look the same.”
Rubin saved the best for last. After demonstrating the Nexus S, he pulled out a prototype Motorola tablet running Android and a new version of Google Maps that will debut in a few days. In the picture above, Rubin at left is holding the Motorola tablet as Swisher looks on from the right.
The tablet — which looks like it has about a 9-in.diagonal screen and a roughly quarter-inch thick case — has a dual-core Nvidia 3-D graphics processor. Inside it has the Android “Honeycomb” version that’s coming out next year.
Rubin showed a map of San Francisco and used pinch gestures to zoom in and tilt the map to bring up a 3-D version showing building elevations from a bird’s-eye view.
Here’s a picture of the big screen on which Rubin’s demo was projected. Here he’s showing the new version of Google Maps running on Honeycomb:
Here’s a video of Rubin showing the Motorola tablet: