Google’s newly formed platforms and devices team is all about AI

AI is taking over at Google, and the company is changing dramatically to try to make this even faster. Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced major internal reorganizations on Thursday, including the creation of a new team called “Platforms and Devices” that will oversee all of Google’s Pixel products, all Android, Chrome, ChromeOS, Photos, etc. . The team will be led by Rick Osterloh, who was previously senior vice president of devices and services, overseeing all of Google’s hardware efforts. Hiroshi Lockheimer, longtime head of Android, Chrome and ChromeOS, will take on other projects within Google and Alphabet.

This is a huge change for Google, and it probably won’t be the last. There’s only one reason for all this, Osterloh says: AI. “It’s not a secret, is it?” he says. Consolidating teams “helps us be able to do full-stack innovation when necessary,” says Osterloh. He uses the example of the Pixel camera: “You had to have a deep understanding of the hardware systems, from sensors to ISPs, including all layers of the software stack. And, at the time, all the early HDR and ML models were doing camera processing… and I think the hardware/software/AI integration really showed how AI could totally transform a user experience. It was important. And it’s even more true today.

Osterloh offers GPUs as another example: Google has invested resources in its Tensor products to keep pace with Nvidia and others, and keeping hardware and software close together and aware of each other’s work facilitates rapid improvement . It’s the kind of thing you can try to do with two teams, he says, but when it’s one team with one leader and one goal, everything can be faster.

As we chat, Osterloh and Lockheimer sit in Lockheimer’s office talking to me on Google Meet. The two men have been friends and colleagues for decades and swear up and down that this change is not the result of an internal power struggle. (Even when I bring it up as a joke, they both shoot me down loud and fast.) They and Pichai have been talking to Pichai about this change for more than two years, Lockheimer says, and now it finally seems like the right time.

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By combining teams, Osterloh says, Google can now move much more quickly to integrate AI into all of its products. “We have a very quick way to get the latest research and models from DeepMind,” he says, also noting that Jay Yagnik, a longtime researcher and engineer on Google’s AI team, is joining now the Osterloh team, in part. to facilitate this interaction. One way to think about these changes is to simplify the pipeline: there is now a team that does AI research and a team that makes AI products. “Often,” Osterloh continues, “this will involve figuring out how to build a new application based on the results of our latest model and being able to quickly move people in to do that.” Google, which in many ways was caught off guard by the AI ​​revolution, knows it must do everything it can to move forward as quickly as possible.

For years, Google has said it carefully separates its own hardware efforts from its work with the broader Android ecosystem so as not to favor its own devices or complicate relationships with companies like Samsung. However, over the past few years, this relationship has changed: Google’s hardware team has sought to both create great devices and show the rest of the Android world where things can go.

One way to think about these changes is to simplify the pipeline: there is now a team that does AI research and a team that makes AI products.

Osterloh bristles when I suggest that this reorganization could signal the end of the firewall between Pixel and Android. “We’ve always maintained separate teams between Android and our ecosystem partners, as well as our first-party hardware efforts,” he explains. Sameer Samat, who has so far helped run Android under Lockheimer, will now be the president of the Android ecosystem. Samat has all these ecosystem relationships, Lockheimer says, and everything will be fine. And Cristiano Amon, CEO of Qualcomm and one of the first people informed of this change, said in a statement: “I look forward to working with Rick to deliver cutting-edge Android experiences powered by Snapdragon, not only on mobile but on Auto, XR and Calculate.”

At the same time, it’s clear that Google is putting more emphasis on its role as the tip of the spear for Android, especially as AI takes over the operating system. Google is already adding its Gemini model and chatbot everywhere it can think of, adding AI features to the Pixel’s camera over the past couple of years, and clearly has big plans for how AI can change the world. how you use your phone – and why matters, your devices running Android Auto, Wear OS, ChromeOS and everything in between.

Changes like this seem to be part of an ongoing cycle at Google, a company that allows for a sprawling, largely self-contained work environment – that’s how you get Gmail but also a thousand email apps and under-integrated products – and which, from time to time, makes an effort to consolidate around larger and profit-enhancing initiatives. “More wood behind fewer arrows,” co-founder Larry Page called it in 2011, when the big move of the time was Google Plus. Google is surely hoping that its entire AI push turns out to be better.

In some ways, it seems like this has been Osterloh’s path since he first joined Google in 2016. Back then, Google Assistant was all the rage, and Pichai was telling anyone who would listen that he was betting on the company on the idea of ​​“ambient environment). computer science” and a virtual assistant that would create “a personal Google” and help you do more in your life. Osterloh’s job was to build housing for Google Assistant: phones, speakers, VR headsets, laptops, smartwatches, and more. Osterloh says he knew from his early days that he was ultimately working on AI and that hardware would be much more important to an AI-focused Google than to a search-focused Google. “And the technology has evolved so much, to the point where it’s really ready.”

Moving forward, Osterloh says his priorities haven’t changed, although the pace of his daily meetings will certainly change. In general, he says, the plan is just to do everything faster. Update Google devices more often as AI models improve. To launch new products with agility, rather than getting bogged down in processes and bureaucracy. “We can’t drop a new SOC into existing products,” says Osterloh. “But we can design for longevity and then update our software frequently.”

Google is attempting to completely reinvent itself around AI, a technology that Pichai himself has said could be as important as fire. Every app Google owns and every platform it administers will be changed by Gemini. For this to work, Google itself – the company, its structure, its very culture – will change. It won’t always be easy, but there’s clearly no time to waste.

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