I don't think there's another company in the history of the world that has ever provided so many extremely cool life-changing geeky products, for free, than Google
A history of greatness
But first, let's recap what we have so far. Google, of course, first came into our consciousness because of its search engine, which was conceived in 1997 as a way to compete with Yahoo!
In some cases, Google replicated -- and probably improved on -- existing free products. In other cases, it provided for free what others are charging big money for, like office productivity software and GPS navigation. Microsoft
How, you may ask, can the company do all this ... provide products for free that others could never give away unless they wanted to go out of business? Well, we know that Google can do it because the company only cares about filling the universe with products it can sell advertising around. But there's still something more to that question, as I'll address in a moment.
That brings us to Google Goggles, the latest life-changing geeky product I mentioned earlier. Goggles brings mobile search to an entirely different plane of existence -- sort of like adding a third dimension, if you will.
It works within the existing Google Mobile search app and uses your phone's camera. Let's say you're driving around town and want to know about a building, bridge, or other landmark you see. Simply take a picture, and Google Goggles analyzes the photo and (assuming it's in the database, which is constantly getting larger) the app will return relevant information and links to you. Snap a picture of a book, and get a summary plus links on where to buy it. "Goggling" the Starbucks logo on my coffee cup brought up links to the company's website, a map with the nearest stores, and links to buy coffee online. Take a picture of almost any bar code, and get instant information on the product. It even translates text, so if you come across a sign in a foreign language, just take a picture and you'll get at least an idea of what it says. (And just hope it doesn't say "No photography.")
What it means to investors
Let's get back to our earlier discussion of how Google makes money while creating these incredible products. Right now, it has a superb business model, raking in more than $8.5 billion in real cash over the past 12 months. Virtually all of that money came from advertising revenues of one sort or another. If the company continued more or less along these lines forever, it would be a solid buy at today's prices.
But is there any reason it can't begin to slowly monetize some of its ingenious technology in other ways, while keeping its advertising model intact? Let's take Goggles as an example. How about continuing to give away the Mobile search app for free but charging a buck or two to add Goggles to it? I'm seeing hints of this type of thinking in Google Voice, where domestic calling is free but there's a charge for international. These are just a couple of small examples, neither of which is going to add much to Google's bottom line. But they point to what I consider a deeply hidden upside for the company -- an ability to meaningfully supplement advertising sometime in the future with different revenue streams. Think about it: Will a company that's revolutionized the tech world still be settling for only ad revenue 10 years from now?
This is a good example of what Fool co-founder David Gardner means when he seeks companies with "many different futures," especially for his Rule Breakers service -- where Google is a two-time recommendation and a core holding. We can't predict exactly what fantastic technology Google will produce in the future, but we don't have to in order to profit from it. The more possible futures a company has, the more likely it is to hit on one that exceeds even the most optimistic predictions -- as Apple has done, hitting all-time highs on the strength of iPhone and iPad sales. As a true Rule Breaker, Google is a high-risk investment, but it's one with the potential for continued outstanding returns.
Want to read more about Google? Add it to My Watchlist, which will find all of our Foolish analysis on this stock.
Fool analyst Rex Moore woke up this morning and gargled, Goggled, and Googled. Of the companies mentioned here, he owns shares of Microsoft. Google and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor choice. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.