Since its founding in 1998, Google -- now held under the umbrella of Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) -- has spent tens of billions of dollars expanding its reach through acquisitions. And with more than $106 billion in cash and marketable securities on its balance sheet at the end of last quarter, investors can be fairly sure the internet search giant's decades-long buying spree won't end anytime soon.
On the heels of a new partnership last month centering around smart-home technologies with iRobot (NASDAQ:IRBT), I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the home robotics leader found itself in Alphabet's acquisitive crosshairs. Here are three reasons the move could make sense.
Profitable, nonintimidating diversification
Recall in late 2013, Alphabet raised eyebrows by acquiring eight robotics companies in less than six months. But perhaps none among them drew more attention than balancing humanoid robot specialist Boston Dynamics.
However, Alphabet has ultimately divested many of its robotics subsidiaries since then, including the sale of Boston Dynamics to Japanese tech giant Softbank for an undisclosed sum last year. Alphabet executives reportedly cited a combination of difficulty working with Boston Dynamics, in particular, as well as the public's discomfort with its Terminator-esque bots and the unlikelihood that its products would generate any real revenue in the near future.
With iRobot, however, none of these cons exist. The recent smart-home partnership obviously signals a willingness to work closely with Alphabet, and iRobot's wildly popular Roomba robotic vacuums are anything but scary. In contrast to both Boston Dynamics and even Nest -- the latter of which Alphabet acquired for $3.2 billion in 2014 and only recently graduated out of its "Other Bets" segment when the smart-thermostat maker began to generate material sales -- iRobot is already generating real revenue and profits. Its sales soared nearly 30% year over year last quarter, to roughly $265 million, while net income increased by half to $31.9 million despite the negative impact of recently implemented tariffs.
The power of in-home data
With eight products that each boast at least one billion monthly active users -- from Google Search to YouTube, Gmail, Chrome, Maps, Android, Drive, and the Google Play store -- Alphabet knows better than any other company that data is power. But iRobot enjoys a unique front-row seat to hoards of in-home data that no other company can provide, especially through the cutting-edge home-mapping technology employed by its smart new self-cleaning Roombas.
In fact, that was the underlying driver of iRobot's new partnership with Google. In addition to the Roomba's current ability to remember multiple floor plans and room names so consumers can use the Google Assistant to clean specific rooms, iRobot elaborated:
Working together, iRobot and Google will seek additional ways to integrate their platforms, providing customers with the choice to opt in to new innovative smart home experiences that leverage a broader understanding of the home's space. For example, the spatial awareness of the home that Roomba maintains may help to simplify smart home setup and enable powerful new automations.
"We're excited to be exploring with iRobot how its unique spatial awareness technology can work with the [Google] Assistant to offer customers a more intuitive and personalized experience in their homes," added Google Smart Home Ecosystem director Michele Turner.
Future growth opportunities
Earlier this year, iRobot founder and CEO Colin Angle insisted that while his company intends to drive profitable growth over the long term, he also recognizes the value in taking market share and driving revenue gains in these early stages.
"This is a movement in time where over in the next three years the true winners in the consumer robot industry are going to be determined for the next decade," Angle stated at the time.
To that end, iRobot is introducing exclusive ads this holiday season to bolster awareness for its younger Braava floor-mopping robots. And the company has further listed bathroom cleaning, laundry folding, lawn mowing, and even loading and emptying dishwashers as among its other areas of potential interest.
If Alphabet were to acquire iRobot while Roomba still represents its bread and butter, and before those other categories take shape, it could lay the foundations for capturing multiple multibillion-dollar markets in the coming decades.
The bottom line
To be clear, I'm a longtime iRobot shareholder, so I would technically benefit from any acquisition premium that Alphabet could provide. But with a current market capitalization of "just" $2.5 billion, and with shares trading more than 25% below their all-time high set in August, I would also be terribly disappointed for the loss of a portfolio holding with so much upside potential. Alas, I still think making such a move would make plenty of sense for Alphabet.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Steve Symington owns shares of iRobot. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and iRobot. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.