When Matias gets to the meeting, he walks through the door like he’s in mid-sentence, as if he was handing off some direction to someone just outside the room. He comes in with a smile on his face wearing a loud, patterned shirt that looks perfect for a beach in Hawaii (where he’s incidentally headed the next day). Matias Duarte is not a big guy, but he’s got a room-filling personality. You can tell when he’s fired up, and he’s clearly fired up today.
The philosophy of Android
Matias is somewhat of an anomaly in our industry. He led major user interface projects at Danger, Helio, and most notably Palm — where he gave birth to webOS — which were incredibly inventive in both design and functionality. At those companies, he took the lead on the creation, design, and implementation of novel and new mobile interfaces. But he’s not just a skilled designer. Matias can talk about his designs in a way that people understand. Not only understand, but get excited about. He’s effusive, brilliant, and very focused.
Unfortunately his work at those companies couldn’t find a foothold, and he seemed destined to toil away on doomed projects until he arrived at Google last year (he left Palm just after the company was acquired by HP) to work with his old boss from Danger, Andy Rubin.
He sits down at the head of the table. I ask him to start by telling me what’s been happening between Honeycomb, his first big project at Google, and Ice Cream Sandwich.
He starts with a qualifier. “Honeycomb was kind of that emergency landing,” he says, “You get there, ‘phew, okay survived that,’ and when we finished that we said ‘what’s next?’”
“Coming in and being put in charge of the design and UX for this enormously successful platform that now has years of legacy behind it. It’s completely unlike getting behind the steering wheel of a zippy, agile little car. It’s more like driving an aircraft carrier.” He gestures as if he’s pushing a button, “Okay guys, turning left! Are we turning left yet?” His point is that it’s a big machine.
“There’s a momentum that’s in there, and that comes from the magnitude of what we’re trying to do. It’s a platform, it’s got to run on all these different form factors, on these different classes of devices, it’s got to have a flexibility designed into it that you don’t have to worry about when you’re doing a completely integrated device.” Matias pulls out a laptop and puts it on the table between us. We’re working up to something here.