As Chinese phone market broadens, a top Google exec heads east

Hugo Barra, formerly the VP of product management for Android, will take a job at Xiaomi, a Chinese manufacturer. 

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    Google's Hugo Barra, pictured here at an event in 2012, is leaving his post for a job at a Chinese manufacturer.
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Hugo Barra, the vice president for Android product management, is leaving Google for a job at a top Chinese phone maker.

In a post on Google+, Mr. Barra, who has been at Google since 2008, said he will be the new VP for global at Xiaomi, a top Asian manufacturer. In recent months, Xiaomi has surpassed Apple in Chinese smart phone sales. Last week, Bloomberg Businessweek put the company's valuation at a hefty $10 billion. 

"I'm really looking forward to this new challenge, and am particularly excited about the opportunity to continue to help drive the Android ecosystem," Barra wrote. 

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The Chinese smart phone market, once relatively small, is growing rapidly. By one estimate, 464 million Chinese citizens are now accessing the Web via smart phones or other wireless devices (hat tip to the BBC). And Apple appears to be losing ground fast to local rivals such as Samsung. 

"The market is now moving toward Samsung and brands from China," a top accessory maker has said

So, yes, although the exact circumstances of Barra's departure remain unclear – Barra seems to hint the whole thing was amicable – it makes sense that he would look east, to an up-and-comer with plenty of resources and a widening market share. Barra's decision also says plenty about the aggressive approach Chinese companies are now taking toward the smart phone business. 

"[Barra is] a significant figure in the industry, a significant figure at Google," Pete Cunningham, an analyst at research firm Canalys, told the New York Times. "It underlines the trend we’re seeing in the market. The Chinese vendors are going to play a big part in shaping the future of the industry.”

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