4 things to expect from Google in 2015

Google wants very much to be known as more than just a search company, and over the next year many of its biggest moves will be in other areas.

Many of Google's biggest moves in 2015 will come outside of search. Getty Images

Google is a powerhouse, but it's a powerhouse in transition.

In 2014, Google's search engine -- the largest in the world -- continued to dominate the market. In the US, the company has 67 percent of the search market on desktop computers. Globally, it's a $50 billion business in revenue annually.

But as Google looks to where future revenue streams will come from, CEO Larry Page hasn't been shy about saying the company has needed to expand its vision. When Google was founded in 1998, it gave itself the mandate of "organizing the world's information." Now that means a lot more than just search.

"I think the mission statement is probably a little bit too narrow and we're thinking about how to do that a little more broadly," Page said in December.

So, not surprisingly, much of what's expected from Google over the coming year has little to do with its juggernaut search business and more to do with its ever-growing enterprises outside of search -- from YouTube to its secretive lab Google X to its dominant Android platform. Here are four things to consider when looking at Google in 2015.

1) The consumer launch of Google Glass
Remember Google Glass? The Internet-connected smart eyewear, which captured the attention of geeks and the tech media, launched in a limited program in early 2013 but had gone relatively dark in 2014. Google is expected to release the consumer version of Glass sometime this year.

The device, which Google co-founder Sergey Brin previously intended for a wide release last year, has been met with both fascination and scorn since it was unveiled in 2012. It has particularly touched a nerve with those concerned about piracy and privacy. Glass, which has a built-in camera and recording device, has been banned from movie theaters by the Motion Picture Association of America and has also been banned by some bars.

The launch of the consumer version of Google Glass was previously expected to come this year. CNET

But for all the controversy Glass has stirred up, the device is still technically on a very public test run. Google strategically planned a slow rollout, calling the first people to own the device "explorers."

It's unclear what the product will offer once it moves beyond its prototype phase. Some analysts expect a price drop from its original, "explorer" price of $1,500. Paul Saffo, a Stanford professor and Silicon Valley futurist who's observed the industry for decades, believes the price was deliberately steep to temper expectations. "If it had a consumer price, people would expect consumer functionality," he said.

Others say the product will be better as a result of the hardship early on. "What we see in version 2, 3 or 4 is going to be significantly better because of the failure of version one," said Sameet Sinha, an analyst at B. Riley and Co.

2) A push to get TV ad budgets to YouTube
Google has been making big investments in YouTube, its premier online video platform. The company has fought to keep its top creative talent on the service, especially as rivals like Facebook and startups like Victorious aim to crowd YouTube's turf.

There's good reason for that investment. YouTube gets more than a billion unique visitors every month and streams about three months' worth of video to viewers every minute. eMarketer predicted that video ad revenues from YouTube in the US would hit $1.13 billion by the end of 2014.

Google wants to cash in on YouTube even more. In the advertising world, television has traditionally been where brands and agencies spend the most money. But analysts say that's poised to change. Ad spending on the Web is set to overtake ad spending on television in 2016, according to a study published in November by Forrester (though that includes all types of Web-based ads -- not just online video).

Several big tech companies have upped their investments in online video ads over the past couple of years. In November, Yahoo bought the ad-tech company Brightroll for $640 million -- the second largest acquisition CEO Marissa Mayer has made since taking Yahoo's helm in 2012. AOL bought Adap.tv, another video ad-tech company, in 2013.

Sinha said he thinks Google will more aggressively go after making deals with big brands and advertising agencies to bring their ad budgets to YouTube. The company has already started making those pacts. In February, Google struck a deal with Magna Global, one of the world's largest advertising buyers. Magna Global is a unit of IPG Mediabrand and invests $37 billion a year on behalf of its clients. The deal reportedly committed about $100 million of marketing money to Google websites, including YouTube.

Another hint about Google's commitment to bringing big ad budgets to YouTube? The company in February put Susan Wojcicki, one of Google's earliest and most senior executives, in charge of YouTube. Wojcicki previously spent years running Google's overall advertising business.

"It can't get much more senior than that," said Sinha.

3) Android everywhere
Arguably no division inside Google was busier in 2014 than the one in charge of Android, the company's mobile operating system. The software already powers more than 80 percent of the world's smartphones, and Google took major steps in 2014 toward expansion.

In September, the company launched Android One, an initiative aimed at bringing affordable, high-quality Android phones to emerging markets. The project, which guides handset makers in what components they should include in their hardware, originally launched in India. In December, Google expanded the program to Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The company originally planned to launch in the Philippines and Indonesia by the end of 2014, but those launches -- along with launches in other countries -- will likely take place over the coming year.

In November, the company began to roll out Android Lollipop, which Google product czar Sundar Pichai called the company's "largest, most ambitious" release yet of the OS. The update is a major overhaul of the software's design and user interface.

Google Android chief Sundar Pichai launched the company's Android One initiative in India in September. James Martin/CNET

B. Riley and Co's Sinha thinks those efforts mean Android is poised to make a jump in quality. "What we see [in 2015] is Android coming out with significantly better phones than what we see now," he said.

Google has also made big bets in wearable devices. Along with Glass, the company has focused on Android Wear, a modified version of Android tailor-made for wearables like smartwatches.

The payoff could be big. By 2018, shipments of wearables will surpass 100 million units, an almost sixfold increase from 2013, according to research firm IDC. Competition in the market will also heat up soon, as Apple gets set to release its own wearable, the Apple Watch, in early 2015.

The chief knock on wearables in the early goings has been that many of them are still too expensive and that there are not many uses for them yet. But Google says it's committed to helping Android Wear mature at a fast rate. "We want to be able to iterate very, very quickly," Hiroshi Lockheimer, Android's top engineer, told CNET in September.

4) Ongoing scrutiny in Europe
Though Google has focused its efforts on several new businesses, search is still the company's bread and butter. And the company's dominance there will likely give Google headaches as antitrust probes continue into 2015.

Google has been embroiled for the past four years in an antitrust investigation in Europe. The case delves into allegations that the company prioritizes the results of its own properties -- like YouTube or the Google+ social network -- over the results of competitors. Google has also been the main target of a European court's ruling known as the "right to be forgotten," which lets people request their names be excluded from search results if the content is irrelevant or outdated.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The European Parliament has also filed a public motion in favor of splitting up Google's search business from the rest of the company (though Google wasn't actually mentioned by name). The motion itself is toothless, but it puts political pressure on the European Commission -- which sets the region's political agenda -- as it probes Google. It also underscores an unfriendly political tone toward the company.

"All of it really reflects broad suspicion of Google in Europe," said Jan Dawson, an analyst at Jackdaw research. Dawson said he expects the European Commission to implement rules around how Google can "cross-promote" its own products on search.

The Commission's antitrust investigation of Google has been drawn out since it began in 2010. After three previous attempts, Google and European regulators haven't been about to agree on a settlement. Europe's new competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, who took the post in November, has indicated she would listen to all complainants before deciding how the investigation would proceed.

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