A look at Google’s acquisitions in 2010 - I

by Abhinna Shreshtha    Dec 14, 2010

A look at Googles acquisitions in 2010Google has been on a spending spree this year as it looks to position itself more strongly as a holistic technology company. Following a muted 2009 due to the global recession, Google bought companies across a range of categories to beef up its existing products. What is interesting with the search giant’s acquisition strategy is that, it has spread its attention, and money, across a varied spectrum that includes mail, social networking, ad serving, collaboration, operating systems, etc. With some deals highly strategic and others raising quite a few eyebrows, Google has had an amazing year in terms of acquisition which has seen it acquire a staggering 26 companies till now, not counting a failed bid for Groupon.

A detailed list of acquisitions would consume too much space; so let’s take a look at the acquisitions in terms of the products they have been incorporated into.

Email and Instant Messaging

Google’s web-based email and instant messaging (IM) services have become highly popular both with businesses and causal users and it seems that Google does not want to sit idle on a product that could has the potential to leave behind Microsoft Outlook and other desktop-based email clients.

On February 17th, Google acquired reMail, for an undisclosed amount. reMail was a mobile email startup founded by Gabor Ciselle, an ex-Googlite, and provided users an efficient way to search for emails. Soon after announcing the acquisition, Ciselle disclosed in a blog post that reMail would be discontinued and the app would be removed from the Apple App Store. Ciselle, in fact, joined the Gmail team as a product manager, further fuelling the belief that the acquisition was just a ruse to get Ciselle back to the Google fold.

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A screenshot of the reMail email search application

In April, Global IP Solutions, announced the GIPS VideoEngine for Android, which provides mobile developers the ability to integrate videoconferencing/video chat into applications running Google’s Android mobile operating system. Within a month, Google had snapped up the VoIP software developer for around $68.2 million. The addition of video chats will certainly be a significant coup for Android and it is also possible that we see the technology make its way to Google Talk in the future.

Social Networking and Gaming

Google is credited for having a Midas touch when it comes to technology and so it is surprising with the string of failures that it has seen in social networking. Granted that Orkut saw a brief period of popularity in countries like India and Brazil, but that too has been eclipsed with the social juggernaut that is Facebook. Indeed, creating a compelling social networking property seems to have become the Holy Grail for the Google team and with the successive failures of Google Buzz and Google Wave, the company is ever keen to get in talent from outside to remedy this.

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Does Google Wave have a place in Google’s revamped social media plans?

Google kicked off the new year with the rumored $50,000,000 acquisition of social search startup - Aardvark on February 12th. Aardvark is an interesting buy for Google; leveraging a person’s online social network to answer queries, it’s unique in the way it finds responses to very specific questions where search engines might fail - think of it like Yahoo! Answers, but using your existing social network. You can check out how it works in Google Labs.

In August, Google continued its strategy of acquiring companies in the social networking space by first buying out Angstro, which allows access to news updates across social networking sites and blogs and then SocialDeck, a company that develops games which can be played across web and mobile platforms. In fact, Angstro co-founder - Rohit Khare has joined as a product manager in Google, presumably to lead its social networking strategy.

A reason for Google’s lack of success in this space was that the absence of applications and games, something that has worked well for Facebook. It seems Google has realized this problem, at least that’s the way it seems if we consider some of its other acquisitions this year. Apart from SocialDeck, it also acquired startups like Israel-basedLabPixies (which creates games for iPhone, iGoogle, Facebook, etc.) in April, Slide.com, a social applications developer founded by Max Levchin of PayPal fame and which was bought for $182,000,000, and virtual currency provider - Jambool, which was bought for $70,000,000.

FloodIt One of the many apps developed by LabPixies
Flood-It: One of the many apps LabPixies has developed

Add to these, rumors that it has also made secret investments to the tune of $200 million in social games developer - Zynga, and it looks like we could see Google re-enter the social networking fray with a more compelling, fun and application-rich product - the much talked about Google Me.

Android OS

The Android mobile operating system has been wildly popular, even eating into Apple’s market in some geographies and if this year’s acquisitions are anything to go by, Android users can expect even better things with future versions. Even here, Google is following its strategy of mixing internal development with acquisitions. If we take a look at the acquisitions Google has made, the main aim is to improve the interface and media functionality of the Android OS.

On April 30th, it bought Bump Technologies, which developed an innovative software which enables users to create a 3D desktop. BumpTop, as the software was called, was available for both Mac and Windows, but has since been discontinued. It is yet unknown how Bump’s 3D technology will be employed by Google, but it’s a good bet that we could see some elements of it integrated in future versions of the Android OS. A 3D desktop? Now that would make iPhone users jealous!

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A screenshot of a BumpTop desktop theme

In keeping with its multi-pronged strategy to displace Apple from the throne, Google also acquired Simplify Media in May, which had created a software that allowed media syncing between iTunes and other platforms. This means that Google now has the functionality to allow Android users to play music from their PC on their phone using the Web. Of course, this requires that the PC remain switched on and connected to the Internet, which is not going to help monthly GPRS and Internet bills, but it also opens up interesting possibilities, especially for users who don’t carry a lot of music on their phones.

Towards the end of the year, in October to be precise, Google made an interesting acquisition. BlindType was a company that created touch typing software for smart phones before it was bought by Google, apparently to improve the Android’s typing function. BlindType’s intuitive typing software accurately predicts what the user wants to type, in fact, some analysts have also stated that with BlindType, the Android might get the best touchscreen typing seen till now. Check out a video on how BlindType works:

Google Docs

Google’s acquisition of DocVerse in March represents the first really serious attempt by the search giant to woo Microsoft Office customers. Consider this post on the Official Google Blog by Matthew Glotzbach, Google enterprise product management director, following the acquisition of DocVerse.

DocVerse allows Office users to collaborate over the Internet from within their Word, Excel or PowerPoint document. Renamed Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office, DocVerse collaboration tool will help Google bridge the gap between Office users and those who want to move to the cloud but are unsure how.

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MS Word with DocVerse running on far right, top corner

Currently, users of Office 2003, 2007 and 2010 can sync their Office documents to the Google cloud, without ever leaving Office. Once synced, documents are backed-up, given a unique URL, and can be accessed from anywhere (including mobile devices) at any time through Google Docs. And because the files are stored in the cloud, people always have access to the current version. This real-time access is especially something Office’s collaboration tools don’t allow. It was a smart, strategic move and will definitely help Google in getting more users onto the cloud and on Google Docs.

(Next: A look at Google’s other acquisitions, including the mysterious Agnilux and the failed bid for Groupon)