What do you think of when you hear “Google”? The very first thought. Do you think “YouTube”? Do you think “Android”? How about “Gmail”?
I’m pretty sure the first thought that popped into your mind was “search engine.” After all, we spent the better part of our Internet-connected lives with Google as a desktop search engine. Their goal was “to organize the worlds information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google’s rapid growth kicked in soon after they went public in 2004, which started the chain of acquisitions, partnerships, and creation of new products. These changes went way beyond their early beginnings as a search engine. So what is Google now? For the past few years, Google considered itself a “mobile first” company.
Google execs claim that mobile is the primary way people use their services. The numbers for mobile web searches and mobile YouTube searches have tripled since inception. This inspired companies like Yahoo and Facebook to work towards making mobile their primary focus. Interestingly enough, Google and Facebook soon started going head-to-head in the mobile ad market, as marketers spent over $18 billion on for ads on phones and tablets in 2013. In a surprising move however, Facebook ended up becoming the biggest beneficiary in the shift to mobile. The timing couldn’t have been better for Facebook, because their stock price was plummeting. And don’t forget about Instagram. The increased monetization from there will continue to work wonders for Facebook. So where does that leave Google? Not in the happiest of places.
Well maybe I should clear things up a bit here. Google is still up top in the sector. They netted 49% of mobile ad revenues in 2013. But they’re just not dominating as much as they used to, especially with Facebook really picking up the pace – kind of at the rate of Google in the early 2000’s. eMarketer estimated that Google might earn $14.7 billion this year from mobile ads, and Facebook might earn $6.8 billion. That’s really not much of a gap between the two, especially considering that Facebook is relatively new to the mobile ad game in comparison to Google.
Also, remember when Google acquired Motorola Mobility? Their press release read “Google is great at software; Motorola Mobility is great at devices. The combination of the two makes sense and will enable faster innovation.” And it was also to ward off lawsuits from Microsoft and Apple, which posed as a threat to Android. That sounded great at the time, but didn’t quite work out as planned. After a year and a half, Google announced they’ll sell Motorola Mobility to Lenovo for $2.9 billion. Larry Page acknowledged that it doesn’t make sense for Google to manufacture phones itself. He went onto say “This move will enable Google to devote our energy to driving innovation across the Android ecosystem.”
I’d say (like most other people) that the reason Google is having a bit of a struggle in the mobile space is because they are trying too hard to be all over the place too soon. I mean, after realizing the flub with Motorola Mobility, Google announced it’s buying connected home-appliance maker Nest for $3.2 billion. Really Google? You’re making minimal efforts to correct your mistakes in the mobile space, then go around adding the home market to your portfolio? Google has lately made claims indicating another possible shift in focus. They might begin to focus less on mobile, and more on reach, because of multiple-device behavior.
I have mixed thoughts about the method to Google’s madness. Sure, there have been mistakes. Yes, Google does tend to throw a lot of money left and right. But hey, they can afford it. With revenues near $60 billion annually, assets worth over $110 billion, and equity worth over $87 billion – Google can certainly afford to test a few waters. But for now, I’ll just join the rest of the world in keeping my eyes open on their developments on current and future projects.