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Does It Really Matter How Much Revenue Alphabet Inc.'s Android Makes?

By Tim Brugger – Jan 29, 2016 at 10:11AM

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The search king’s Android OS revenue is disclosed, and it’s not happy. But what’s the actual impact?

Lawsuits have become a way of life for the tech sector. From alleged patent infringements to skewed search results and unauthorized use of another company's technology, the list of legal complaints is never-ending. Alphabet (GOOG 2.70%) (GOOGL 2.62%) finds itself in the midst of just such a legal battle with Oracle (ORCL 1.04%) over the use of its Java software within its Android operating system.

It was during the courtroom give-and-take that Oracle attorneys announced that Android has made Alphabet billions since its introduction in 2008, and its profit margins are through the roof. There was just one problem with Oracle's pronouncement: It used "extremely sensitive" financial information that should never have been disclosed, according to Alphabet's Google, home of Android. All of Alphabet is notoriously hush-hush when disclosing financial and user data, so Oracle's news hit a nerve.

The question is: Outside of upsetting Alphabet insiders, who cares?

Source: Android.

Oops, did I say that?
It wasn't long ago that non-Android mobile device owners pooh-poohed the OS, regardless of its worldwide dominance. The argument, often from Apple (AAPL -1.26%) fans when its iOS market share was compared with Android, was "So what? It gives it away for free." And Alphabet still does. But what's become apparent in the past year or two is that Android serves two critical functions: It drives both search and Google Play store revenue, just as it has since 2008, when it first hit the streets.

Now there are some particulars for investors to mull over. Oracle attorneys were given internal Alphabet financial documents as part of the legal proceedings -- information that has never been disclosed -- which were used to determine Android's revenue and profit estimates. According to Oracle, Android has added $31 billion to Alphabet's revenue coffers, of which $22 billion was profit. The time frame for the financial figures wasn't made clear, but it's probably from inception, given several analyst estimates over the years that are relatively close to Oracle's revelation.

The Oracle attorney didn't disclose how she came about those totals, and the information wasn't around long to gain more insight. Alphabet attorneys immediately petitioned the judge to remove the online documents, which apparently worked, since the information disappeared without a trace that same afternoon. The question is, other than lending credence to Alphabet's Android strategy, what do the $31 billion in sales and $22 billion in profit really mean? Frankly, not much.

A few niceties
It should be noted that the more revenue Android's made over the years, the more Oracle stands to gain should it win the ongoing lawsuit. Not that a possible court-mandated award would be the basis for skewing the numbers upward, but it wouldn't hurt Oracle's pocketbook if Android revenue were calculated on the high side.

The figures do shed some light on a part of Alphabet's business that investors haven't been privy to until now, despite the objections of its executives. And the more financial data the better for investors exploring growth opportunities. Shareholder sentiment following the news supports that notion.

Alphabet stock got a quick boost -- its share price jumped nearly $20 overnight -- probably because of the disclosure itself, as much as the actual figures. Alphabet shareholders may have gotten used to having its executive team avoid specifics, but that doesn't mean a peek behind the curtain, even a quick one, isn't welcome.

Whether the Android revenue specs are spot-on or not, the fact that it's adding billions to Alphabet's top and bottom lines should come as a surprise to no one. Mobile search has become a big contributor to Alphabet, which is why another tidbit from Oracle's brief but insightful disclosure struck a chord. Based on a revenue-sharing arrangement with Apple, the then-Google paid a whopping $1 billion in 2014 to remain the default search engine on iOS devices.

Now consider that Alphabet's share of the global smartphone OS market is five times that of iOS, and it's easy to see why Oracle's Android revenue numbers aren't shocking. Now if only someone would shed some light on the impact YouTube has on revenue and profit growth -- that would really be intriguing.


Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Oracle. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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