Nobody ever imagined how quickly the Android mobile-phone platform would take off–not even Andy Rubin, the Silicon Valley engineer who created it. Five years ago Rubin was leading a startup that had just been acquired by Google and was trying to develop software that could power a smart phone. Two years ago the first Android phone hit the market and, frankly, it was a bit of a dud. But the software kept getting better, and top handset makers like HTC, Motorola, and Samsung jumped on board, rolling out dozens of Android-based devices.
What began as a trickle now has turned into a tidal wave. In August Google announced it was activating 200,000 Android phones each day. On at least one day since then, that number surged to more than 250,000, Rubin says. Android now has leapt past Apple to become the biggest smart-phone platform in the United States, the third-biggest worldwide, and by far the fastest growing.
Android is the kind of runaway smash hit that techies spend their careers dreaming about. Rubin, a 47-year-old über nerd–he has a retina scanner on the front door of his house and robotic helicopters cruise his backyard–has helped build a string of tech companies over the past two decades. But nothing he’s done so far compares to what’s happening with Android. “This,” he says, “is the most fun I’ve ever had.”
The software was written by a small team of engineers tucked away in a nondescript building on the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. While it contains 11 million lines of code, the whole program takes up only 200 megabytes of space, about as much as 40 MP3 songs. Yet despite its tiny size, Android is changing the mobile industry in profound ways, shifting the balance of power from Europe and Asia, the previous leaders, to Silicon Valley and reshaping the fortunes of the world’s biggest tech companies.