Alphabet (nee Google) (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) may be compared to Apple in many respects, and vice versa, but there's one area where Cupertino soundly bests Mountain View: devices. On one hand, Apple's iPhone alone is responsible for $147 billion in revenue over the trailing 12-months versus Alphabet's total haul of $70 billion.
Alphabet, on the other hand, has struggled with devices. After buying Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion in 2011, the company sold the division to Lenovo for $2.9 billion after years of red ink, although it should be noted the company kept certain high-value patents and sold off a portion of the business to Arris for $2.5 billion as well as keeping Motorola's $3.2 billion cash pile at the time of acquisition.
So while the deal may not have been as bad as advertised, it certainly did not bear fruit in respects to bringing a game-changing device to market. In addition, Alphabet's Nexus line of phones have failed to catch on in a meaningful way versus Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy line of phones. However, there is one device Alphabet has that could become its most important: Its Nest line of thermostats the company purchased in 2014 for $3.2 billion.
Will a subsidy turbocharge sales?
If a recent report from The Washington Post comes to fruition, look for Nest unit sales to skyrocket. ComEd, owned by major electric and natural gas supplier Exelon, announced an ambitious project to get 1 million Nest and Ecobee thermostats into homes in its service area of Illinois by the end of this decade.
To accomplish this goal, the company plans to heavily discount the cost by providing rebates up to $120 -- or nearly half -- on units that cost $249. And while this is only one state, this program has the potential to spread to all of Exelon's 7.8 million customers in 48 states if successful.
In the end, this is a win/win for everybody. ComEd benefits by being able to better control the grid and the positive recognition of working to eliminate greenhouse gases. For users, this will result in lower electrical bills -- the Post reports the Environmental Law and Policy Center estimates savings as much as $130 annually by swapping out manual thermostats for smart ones, paying for itself in exactly one year with the full discount.
For Alphabet, this is both revenue and ecosystem accretive
For the company, however, this is incremental income. Assuming Ecobee and Nest split these consumers, and each sells an additional and incremental 500,000 units at full retail price, Alphabet receives $124.5 million in Nest-related revenue over the next five years. In the whole scheme of things for a company whose top line is pushing $70 billion a year, this isn't a huge revenue haul, but this is potentially a harbinger of things to come.
Right now, there's a nascent battle for control of your home also known as "the smart home." On one hand, you have Apple's HomeKit with Alphabet increasingly looking to use its Nest line of thermostats to build a greater ecosystem to automate the home through its project named Brillo -- having the device subsidized helps spur greater ecosystem adoption. And that's going to be important in the upcoming battle for home automation and the Internet of Things.