Google's Grand Ambitions

Updated from 9:52 a.m. to include additional information from the letter in the twelfth paragraph.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Google (GOOG) seemingly has its hands in nearly every facet of technology, from search to email, maps, mobile, video and more, with initiatives like Google Glass, Project Loon and smart contact lens. If CEO Larry Page has his way, this will be just the beginning. 

Google's Page put out his annual letter to shareholders Thursday, noting that Google's mission, which has been "to develop services that significantly improve the lives of as many people as possible," is now more than just that, as the company has evolved from a start-up in a Stanford laboratory in the mid-1990's, to the world's largest search engine with a $355 billion market cap.

As Google continues to grow, not just in scale, but in use, Page noted that search continues to remain more incredible than ever and faster than ever. "There are over 100 billion searches a month (a whopping 15 percent of which we've never seen before), and we now update our index within seconds to ensure we show the freshest results," Page wrote in the letter. "To make life easier, we're increasingly able to provide direct answers to your questions.  For example, 'what's the deepest lake in the world?' (It's Lake Baikal in Siberia at 1,741 meters) or, 'when does my flight leave?' or, 'how many calories in a pancake?'  And, I am excited by the progress we have made with Voice Search, which now works in over 38 languages, including, most recently, Thai and Vietnamese.  Speaking is often the quickest, easiest way to ask, especially if you're using a mobile device."

According to Netmarketshare.com, Google owns 68.7% of the global search market. The next largest is Baidu (BIDU), the Chinese version of Google, which has just 17% of the global search market (desktop, mobile and console). Yahoo! (YHOO), Microsoft's (MSFT) Bing and AOL (AOL) round out the top five, with 6.6%, 6.4% and 0.26% of the market, respectively.

Despite this, Page noted Google is nowhere close to building the search engine he really wants, noting the company is "a million miles away from creating the search engine of my dreams, one that gets you just the right information at the exact moment you need it with almost no effort." The Mountain View, Calif.-based Google is starting to solve this problem with Google Now, a predictive search engine that gives you information without asking, as well as Google+, the company's social networking platform that provides recommendations for things that are of interest to you.

Google, which makes its money largely from selling ads on search, is trying to improve the way people interact with technology. The company has been busy buying companies that help with this, such as adding Waze to Google Maps, or increasing the capabilities and narrowing the focus on Google Now. Page makes this point, noting that consumers need traffic information to be accessible, so that time isn't wasted traveling and plans can be made to avoid congestion. Page noted contextual search is getting closer, pointing out the example of asking how tall the Eiffel Tower is, then asking when "it" was built, the "it" being the Eiffel Tower.


Page went on to talk about Chrome, which now has over 750 million users, and "is super fast and secure, works seamlessly across devices. Open a map on your desktop; when you switch to your mobile device, the same tab will be open so you can pick up right where you left off."

The next major initiative for Google after desktop search has been the prolific nature of Android, with now more than 1 billion Android devices having been activated in the past six years. As the company moves Android into other arenas, including wearable devices, Page noted the opportunity for developers to earn significantly more money than in the past (earning four times more on average in 2013 than in 2012), allowing users to do so many more things than they have in the future.

Even though Android is the most popular operating system, ahead of Apple's (AAPL) iOS, the problem for developers has always been this: build for Google, but actually make money with Apple.

Now that Google finally has the Google Play store in one location, and it's adding content all the time, the company is seeing the benefits of that. More importantly, so are consumers. "Start listening to a song on your tablet and when you switch to your mobile it will be there (as you can see there is a theme emerging here!)."

He also talked about Chromecast, Google's answer to Apple TV, Roku and other streaming devices, which allows people to watch movies from Netflix (NFLX) or from Google Play, wherever you are, using what you already own. The best part about it, according to Page? It costs just $35.

Page, not one for being shy when it comes to big bets and "moonshot" projects, noted Google is working with other companies to invest in the long-term, particularly as it relates to health. He mentioned Calico, a company being led by Apple's chairman and former Genentech CEO Art Levinson, as well as the aforementioned smart contact lens, affectionately known as Iris, and the recent acquisition of Nest.

Part of Google's problem has always been that it did one thing, search, exceptionally well, and everything else was funded by that operation. The company didn't really care about how things looked, that was Apple's concern. However, since taking back the CEO role a few years ago from Eric Schmidt, Page has placed an increased focus on design of products, though Google is still second-class in this when it comes to Apple. Now, Page is actively working on increasing the aesthetics of Google products, to match the simplicity of the Google homepage, which has worked so well for so many years: "The more choices you throw at people (even if they never use them), the longer it takes them to get stuff done. People still talk about the simplicity of the Google homepage, and that was a huge part of our original success. There's no reason the same principles can't apply across our products, especially now, with so many devices and options, and so much opportunity for distraction."

Outside of search and a mobile operating system that now has over 1 billion users, Page wants to get everyone on the Internet connected, a desire also shared by Facebook (FB), with its Internet.org initiative.

While this may be self-serving, as more people on the Web means more people on Facebook and more people using Google Search, Page hyped up Project Loon as something that benefits mankind, and not just Google shareholders. "The idea is to create a network of balloons on the very edge of space (they fly about twice the altitude of commercial airlines) that can provide connectivity in rural and remote areas.  Soon there will be a classroom in northeast Brazil we are working to put online for the first time, using Loon. And as the program expands, we hope to bring the power of connection to more and more people-creating opportunities that none of us have yet imagined."

Also See: Here's What Google Is Working on Next

Also See: Google Glass Goes on Sale Again!

--Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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