Danger Hiptop

Andy Rubin gets Danger back together at Google to work on Android hardware

May 11, 2011: 3:31 PM ET

Cell phone hardware innovators are gathering at Google. That could mean big changes for Android.

Joe Britt at Google I/O

Joe Britt at Google I/O

FORTUNE -- Matt Hershenson and Joe Britt, two legendary figures in mobile phone development, have suddenly resurfaced as part of the team building Android. Their hiring signals a big change at Google, showing that the company is getting just as serious about the hardware of phones — and this goes well beyond flip vs. candybar -- as it is the software.

Hershenson and Britt were part of the trio that founded Danger in 2000. The third partner: Android chief Andy Rubin. The three engineers launched pioneering consumer smartphones, like the once-ubiquitous-among-celebrities T-Mobile Sidekick in 2000.

Now they're back together again. Within the last 12 months, Britt and Hershenson quietly joined Google (GOOG) to run a new wing within Android called Android Hardware.  They tell me they spend their days building things that will turn into reference designs for Android peripherals.  Android Hardware is exploring everything from home automation to exercise gaming and robotics.  While there are no immediate plans to build Google-branded Android hardware accessories, Britt indicated that he would love to see Google introduce some of its own Android peripherals in the long term. The folks in Cupertino (AAPL) have to be paying attention.

At Danger, the three were determined to change the mobile industry by putting a tiny computer in everyone's hands.  They came up with the Hiptop, which was adopted by a renegade mobile carrier Voicestream shortly before that company was bought out by T-Mobile. The Hiptop was rebranded the Sidekick and went on to critical acclaim, at least in its niche of teens and celebrities who loved the ability to text message with a QWERTY keyboard, without having to carry around their father's BlackBerry. [For an interesting and thorough history of the early days of Danger told by Britt, Rubin and Hershenson, have a look at these videos from a 2004 Stanford talk.] More

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