SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc (GOOG.O) announced plans to acquire smart thermostat maker Nest Labs Inc for $3.2 billion, signaling the Internet company’s intention to expand into a broader array of devices and bringing valuable hardware design expertise in-house.
The Internet giant has in recent years ventured further afield from its roots in online search and advertising, and is now a heavy hitter in industries such as mobile electronics and video-streaming.
The following are some of the newer businesses Google has ventured into or dabbled in past years.
Google’s Android operating system, which evolved from a company-led initiative known as the Open Handset Alliance, is now the world’s most popular smartphone software and is increasingly adopted for tablets as well.
Developed in-house by software engineer Andy Rubin, the software was designed to present an alternative to then-dominant systems such as Apple Inc’s (AAPL.O) iOS and the Blackberry, and spearhead Google’s drive into a then nascent field of mobile advertising.
Android allowed Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) to leapfrog Apple in global market share, enabled new entrants such as Amazon.com Inc(AMZN.O), and helped erode Blackberry’s (BB.TO) market position. It is now installed on an estimated three-quarters of the world’s smartphones.
In 2012, Google also raised eyebrows by paying over $12 billion for Motorola Mobility - still its largest single acquisition - gaining an instant presence in the booming smartphone and tablet business.
Efforts to catapult Motorola back into the top ranks of mobile phone makers are continuing, but the Apple-Samsung stranglehold has been hard to break. The much-hyped, customizable “Moto X” launched last year has so far failed to win it significant market share.
In December, news emerged that Google had acquired Boston Dynamics, a privately held company best known for building futuristic robots, often co-developed or funded by the U.S. military. The purchase was the latest in a string of acquisitions by Google’s secretive robotics division, now led by Rubin. The company has been tight-lipped about its plans in this field, though many media reports linked it to efforts to develop factory robots.
Glass and wearable computing
Google Glass, the “smart” eyeglasses developed by the company’s famously secretive “X” labs, went on sale last year to select developers. The device, which projects a small screen in the corner of a wearer’s eye, is expected to become a major catalyst for what many believe to be the next big trend in mobile, wearable computing devices.
Developers are now crafting apps to try and position themselves if the device, which can be voice- or motion-activated, proves popular with consumers. The company has not set a time frame for an eventual consumer launch.
Another brainchild of the “X” labs, Google began road-testing self-driven cars on Californian highways about two years ago.
Co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page conceived of the futuristic concept, driven in part by a desire to try and eliminate human error and consequently reduce the incidence of accidents on the road, while improving the efficiency of roadways and travel in general.
The concept spurred attention-grabbing headlines two years ago and automakers from General Motors Co to Toyota Motor Corp have since publicized their own intentions to research and develop an automatically propelled vehicle.
High-speed Internet service
Spurred by a desire to wield greater control of the Internet ecosystem, beyond just dominating search and advertising, the company has begun offering ultra-fast Internet service in several cities and free WiFi for chains like Starbucks.
Google says it is following through on a vision of universal Internet access, in hopes of improving living standards. To that end, it is experimenting with a system of using hot-air balloons to provide satellite Internet access in inhospitable or inaccessible regions of the world, including Africa.
Nest and the consumer business
The $3.2 billion acquisition of the 300-employee company started by Tony Faddell, the so-called godfather of the iPod, is expected to propel Google as a consumer brand deeper into the home. The company also acquires a team widely respected for its design and software engineering talent, potentially of benefit to Google’s other forays into the consumer business, which run the gamut from YouTube to gmail and social network Google+.
Retail and commerce
The company offers an electronic payments and stored-value system called Google Wallet, which hasn’t yet gained much traction with either retailers or consumers. It is also trying out same-day goods delivery in several cities, taking a page from the broader retail industry, which is now hoping it will galvanize sales.
Reporting by Edwin Chan; Editing by Eric Walsh