Google exec: We love Android and Chrome equally

April 11, 2014, 5:50 PM UTC
Google’s Sundar Pichai speaking at the Google I/O developer’s conference in May 2013

FORTUNE — For years, pundits have asked Google why it needs two computing platforms, Android and Chrome.

Usually, Android is not the issue. Google’s mobile OS is one of the most successful operating systems ever, leaving some analysts and investors to question to value of the newer Chrome OS.

Sundar Pichai, who rode the success of the Chrome browser and OS to a position of unparalleled technical sway at Google (GOOG), has often brushed aside those questions. In an interview with Fortune, Pichai, a senior vice president in charge of Chrome, Apps, and Android, says that Google does not have to choose between the two platforms. Both are important.

Chrome — not just the operating system or the browser, but the set of web-based technologies that underpin the platform — is a vital complement to Android in a multi-screen world, he says.

Below is a transcript of that conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.

Fortune: At high level, what’s the Chrome platform to Google? With the browser and OS it’s fairly clear, but once it branches into Chromecast, Chromebox for Meetings, and so forth, what’s the unifying theme behind all those iterations of the platform?

Pichai: Increasingly we will have more and more things in our lives which have to get connected. The web was built from the ground up to connect things. Chrome and web technologies will play a pivotal role in helping connect things.

Cast is an example of it. It’s amazing that you have a TV and you put this small thing in there, you tell it to play YouTube from the phone. All of it works naturally and easily. That’s what the web and its attributes were designed to do. That’s the beauty of the model.

Interesting. Chrome didn’t start out that way.

It started with web. Things were shifting from desktop applications to applications in the browser like Gmail and Maps. While we didn’t think of it that way at that time, it’s been about the web and what the web can do. It’s part of what excites me about being able to have a large platform like Chrome. It gives us a chance to do things that others are not necessarily thinking about.

How you would explain Chrome’s strategic importance to Google?

Computing obviously is playing a really powerful role in people’s lives. We are expanding computing to many things. Increasingly, as you have more computing devices in your life, you want it all to work together. You want these screens to work together in ways that make sense to you. I feel we are uniquely positioned because we have two great tools, in Chrome and Android, two large open platforms, with which we can bring these things together to solve problems focusing on the user.

That also creates a situation where you must wonder which is the better approach. For television, you have Chromecast and you have Google TV, which is Android-based.

If you are thoughtful about it, you have more tools and more approaches, and if you focus on the user, you always bring the best solution to the problem. It’s a great problem to have.

Larry Page talks about the multiscreen world. How important is Chrome in making that multiscreen world come together?

I think it can play a pivotal role — more profound than most people internalize. [I am] not necessarily thinking of Chrome as a browser today, but as a paradigm, as a platform, as a web platform. As a proponent for web technologies, it will play a critical role in making sure that in a multiscreen world, those screens work together in harmony and work together for users.

Is one platform more important than the other to Google?

That’s a bit of a false choice for us. We are fortunate to be able to invest in both to the extent that we want to. It hasn’t been an issue at all.

We are thinking about computing for the very long run. If anything, we may need more [platforms] over time. Chrome and Android need to evolve a lot [and] get better to solve these problems.

Your team has been doing things to make Chrome work better on mobile. Mobile seems to be dominated by the native app paradigm. How far do you think web technologies can go in mobile?

We don’t think of this as a zero-sum game. We want to do everything possible to make native apps work better and better and better. And everything possible to make web apps in mobile work better and better and better. One area where I see the mobile web working really well is for a lot of content applications.

To us, there is no trade-off. We want to give developers choices.

What keeps you up at night?

I think mobile web is in its infancy. It can be a platform much more capable than it is today. You can do a lot more with it. How you drive that capability much faster is something that worries me.

Would it make sense to build a mobile Chrome OS?

If you are asking, does it make sense to do a phone which is Chrome OS, the answer is no. Android is working so well.

How significant is Chromecast for Google’s play for the living room? You still have Google TV, which is Android-based.

Both are important to us. We will thoughtfully evolve both of them together more. We are working on it, and we will have more to say.

To me, the insight behind Chromecast is very powerful, it resonates very well with users. I think it is central to what we are doing. We are scaling up as much as possible to meet demand. There are lots of possibilities for where we can take Chromecast.

Desktop remains a huge part of Google’s business. Is the push of Chromebooks still strategic for Google?

It’s doing so well for us in the marketplace. We are very excited by that. We want to follow the user response. You will see us invest a lot more in this area. The work that has been done in Chrome OS can be used in very interesting ways.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently talked about his vision of cloud and mobile combined. What’s your reaction to what you saw?

I think it’s exciting to see them bring Office to the iPad. It’s clearly the right thing to do. I hope they are working hard on an Android version. That would excite me a lot.

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