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Business Briefing

Google Android Brain Heads to Chinese Competitor

Google Android Brain Heads to Chinese Competitor
August 29, 2013 10:21AM

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Hugo Barra is a logical hire for Xiaomi. It's not clear whether his personal life and recent breakup with a co-worker played any role in his decision to leave Google. He denies it did. Barra has been on the Android team for several years and he may have also wanted a new challenge.

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China's mobile phone industry is working hard to rise in the global economy -- or at least get more of its citizens to buy into devices made in the Communist nation. But an executive move by Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi comes with especially high ambitions.

Xiaomi is looking to drive more innovation on the Android front with the hire of Hugo Barra, one of the masterminds behind the development of Google's Android mobile operating system. Xiaomi needs all the help it can get, considering it has no retail stores or deals with third-party distributors. Of course, that could soon change as the company raises its international profile with its new hire.

In October, Barra will join the Beijing-based company as head of international business development. With the move, Xiaomi seems poised to take on Samsung Electronics. Of course, the Chinese smartphone maker has miles to go before it comes close to its rival's Android dominance. But its low-price differentiator has turned heads in China and could turn more outside its homeland.

A Significant Industry Player

According to Canalys, Xiaomi owned 5 percent of China's smartphone market in the second quarter. Samsung Electronics boasted an 18 percent market share while Apple posted a 4.8 percent share. But, like Lenovo and Huawai, Xiaomi is looking beyond its borders for new growth opportunities. The company is betting Barra is the man to lead that charge.

"He's a significant figure in the industry, a significant figure at Google," Pete Cunningham, an analyst at Canalys, a research firm, told the New York Times. "It underlines the trend we're seeing in the market. The Chinese vendors are going to play a big part in shaping the future of the industry."

For Barra's part, he is committed to helping Xiaomi. In a Google+ post, he confirmed he is joining the Xiaomi team in China to "help them expand their incredible product portfolio and business globally -- as Vice President, Xiaomi Global," he said. "I'm really looking forward to this new challenge, and am particularly excited about the opportunity to continue to help drive the Android ecosystem."

Google offered a statement saying, "We wish Hugo Barra the best. We'll miss him at Google and we're excited that he is staying within the Android ecosystem."

A Logical Hire

We caught up with Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, to get his take on the Google departure. He told us Barra is a logical hire, in a way.

"Xiaomi handsets are Android-based and Barra was a major figure on the Android team, helping direct the platform and its devices. I'm sure he's being given a significant and interesting opportunity in China -- as well as pay commensurate with that," Sterling said.

"It's not clear whether his personal life and recent breakup with a co-worker played any role in his decision to leave Google. He denies it did," Sterling added. "Barra has been on the Android team for several years and he may have also wanted a new challenge."

According to AllThingsD, Barra's decision to resign is unrelated to the end of his romantic relationship with another Google employee, who is now reported to be seeing Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

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