Google's Pichai on Xiaomi, Cyanogen and the Apple Watch

The Google executive offered his views on a wide range of issues

In a wide-ranging discussion on stage at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday, Google senior vice president Sundar Pichai offered his views on lots of issues at the heart of the mobile telecommunications industry.

He used the time to confirm Google's plans to launch a mobile carrier in the U.S. and gave an update on progress of its ambitious Project Loon and Project Titan airborne Internet experiments. Here's what else he said:

On Android's marketshare and the iPhone 6

The launch of the iPhone 6 gave Apple's market share a boost in the mobile market and put a little pressure on Android.

Pichai said he sees "very positive momentum" on Android and Apple's jump wasn't a surprise, taking the chance to remind the audience that Android had been there first with large screens.

"We knew bigger phones would have an impact, we've been doing it for a while."

On the Samsung Galaxy S6

Less than 24 hours after its launch, Pichai pulled one from his jacket pocket and showed it to the audience.

The phone, he said, "represents the state of the art in what's possible in a smartphone."

On Xiaomi

The Chinese handset maker first rose to international recognition when former Google executive Hugo Barra moved from Mountain View to Beijing to head up its international strategy. But more recently, it's gained recognition for its unique strategy: one new phone a year with software updates every week.

Pichai sidestepped direct comment on the company, but said he would love to see Google services rolled out in China (something not possible since most of the company's products are blocked in China) and was exploring the possibility of launch a version of the Play Store in the country.

"You see a lot of malware. There is a shared incentive for us to work there and we are working to make that possible."

On Cyanogen

The alternative Android distribution has gained fans among hardcore geeks and its backers recently criticized the control that Google exerts over the Android eco-system.

Pichai said he hasn't played around with a Cyanogen phone, so he doesn't know the platform's value proposition, but beyond the marketing message, "I would question building without Google services."

On Android Pay

Google Wallet hasn't taken off in any big way so far, but payments could be an important part of future smartphones. Android Pay is Google's payments platform, designed to sit under Google Wallet and competitors so that Android phones handle transactions in a standard way, no matter what the user-facing application.

Pichai said Google Wallet will be just one customer of Android Pay, under the company's vision. When asked about Samsung Pay, Pichai conceded Samsung is ahead -- he actually said Samsung is "on a slightly different time frame" -- but he expressed a desire to "work closely with them to see how we can align."

On the Apple Watch

Apple showed off prototypes of its first wearable device last year and the company is widely expected to announce launch plans at an event in San Francisco next week.

Pichai said wearables are exciting, and was immediately challenged as to why he wasn't wearing an Android watch. He came up with a great excuse: the watch he's been trying is not yet released so he took it off for the event.

Specifically on the Apple Watch, "I, just like everyone else, am keen to see what they come up with," he said.

On Google retail stores

Google has been rumored to be considering a chain of retail stores where it can present its products and services.

The company is always trying to figure out how to best present its products, but it will do that through existing retail partners, said Pichai.

If the company does open stores, it will be something like its efforts for the Nexus hardware -- a smaller effort intended to push the Google vision and not a mass market retail effort, he added.

On Android in India and other developing markets

Google's Android One project has produced a $100 smartphone in India and since been expanded to six countries. The phones are intended to offer a full smartphone experience at a low cost.

Pichai said he sees the project as representing a great vision of what's possible with hardware at lower price points and that he hopes prices could fall by half in a few years.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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