Google won't open its own retail stores

February 26, 2013: 2:23 PM ET

Android head Andy Rubin says the rumors aren't true - Google isn't planning on opening retail stores.

120808033115-google-android-smartphone-gallery-horizontalFORTUNE -- Apple's done it. Microsoft's doing it. And now Samsung's doing it too. But Google -- at least according to Android head Andy Rubin -- has no plans to open up its own shops.

Rubin addressed recent rumors that Google (GOOG) is looking into opening retail stores at this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, telling a small group of journalists that the company "has no plans" to jump onto the brick and mortar retail bandwagon. "You don't have to go into the store and feel it anymore," he said about the purchasing process for consumer handsets. As for Google's Nexus line of products, Rubin said the program isn't "far enough along" to necessitate a retail presence.

Some have speculated that physical stores could help consumers experience Google-made products first-hand, much like Apple's (AAPL) retail stores helped turbocharge its epic turnaround. "We believe having local presence will undoubtedly help Google in building its hardware business where it can showcase its expanding product line including Chromebooks, Nexus and Motorola smartphones and tablets, Google TV, and Google Glass," Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu wrote in a recent report. Not to mention, "it will help build brand and customer loyalty."

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Rubin also answered questions about Samsung's growing power as the dominant manufacturer of Android-powered phones. There has been a lot of speculation about Samsung becoming a threat to Google -- for example, Samsung's increased clout could help it negotiate a larger cut of Google's advertising revenue. Google now owns Motorola, which Rubin insisted is kept as a separate structure and isn't given preferential treatment, even though it is a direct competitor to Samsung. Samsung, for its part, is experimenting with other operating systems, including Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Phone and a little-known open-source effort called Tizen.

"It's not just Samsung," said Rubin. "I've seen various other people dabbling in other platforms. I think this is normal, it's fine."

Obviously Google has an interest in making sure other phone manufacturers succeed in selling Android devices -- not just Motorola and Samsung. Rubin said he is here at Mobile World Congress to connect with partners. (This year, Google did not have a booth but operated out of a tiny conference room decorated with the company's iconic little green Androids.) The Android ecosystem has grown to represent the majority of smartphones that are now being shipped. And newer entrants like Chinese manufacturer Huawei could help increase numbers in markets like China even more.

"I've met a lot of them at the show, and their roadmaps look solid," Rubin said of China-based phone manufacturers. "I wouldn't consider them any different than anybody else. I don't really care what country they come from." As long as they keep selling more Android phones.

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Michal Lev-Ram
Michal Lev-Ram
Writer, Fortune

Based in Silicon Valley, Michal Lev-Ram covers enterprise and mobile technologies for FORTUNE. Prior to joining FORTUNE, she wrote for CNNMoney, Fast Company, Popular Science and other business and technology publications. She was also a staff writer at Business 2.0 and holds a B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University.

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