Google hires former Motorola chief Osterloh in hardware shakeup

Google has hired former Motorola chief Rick Osterloh to lead the company's effort to unify its hardware line.

Osterloh was quietly named senior vice president and will report to CEO Sundar Pichai, as Re/code was the first to report. He will oversee a new division that will manage the company's Nexus line of handsets and tablets as well as Chromebook laptops, Chromecast streaming TV sticks, OnHub Wi-Fi routers and the Advanced Technology and Projects group, which is developing modular phones, among other things.

The new division will also develop longer-term hardware initiatives such as Google Glass, the high-profile connected eyewear that failed to gain traction in the consumer market for multiple reasons. Google is reworking Glass with an eye on the enterprise market.

Google designs its Nexus phones, but the handsets have been manufactured by multiple vendors including Huawei, LG and Motorola Mobility, which Google acquired in 2011 for $12.5 billion in what looked to be an aggressive move into the mobile hardware market. But Google's device manufacturing effort foundered, and the company sold most of Motorola to Lenovo in 2014.

Interestingly, Google's sale to Lenovo excluded the team working on Project Ara, which develops an open hardware platform for building modular smartphones. Project Ara has since been folded into the Android but will report to Osterloh.

Virtual reality devices, which has become a top priority for Google, will not fall under Osterloh's purview.

The move marks a major shakeup for Google's hardware businesses, and it could signal a renewed focus on smartphones. The Nexus line has never enjoyed mass-market adoption due to a lack of marketing and distribution, among other reasons, but the handsets have been generally well-received by early adopters and other tech enthusiasts.

Smartphone margins are generally razor-thin for any company not named Apple, though, and the worldwide market is grinding to a halt. So Osterloh's hiring may indicate Google hopes to create a comprehensive business of "mobile" hardware that includes a wide range of connected devices.

For more:
- see this Re/code article
- see this Wall Street Journal report

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