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On eve of Google developers conference, company 'hot again'

Under CEO Larry Page, Google is grabbing attention by exploring technological frontiers, with projects such as creating a simulation of the human brain. Software developers conference kicks off Wednesday.

May 14, 2013|By Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times

"Google can do no wrong right now," said Anthony Valencia, media analyst at TCW Group. "It is not hard to map out a scenario in which they continue to gain market share of the worldwide advertising market as they expand into other areas and keep up double-digit top-line growth. There are not a lot of companies that can do that."

Analysts credit Page, who broke through bureaucratic layers that had slowed Google's pace and handpicked a small team of lieutenants — called the L-Team — to help shape Google's strategy. He culled the herd of unsuccessful projects to refocus Google on key product lines. And some of the big bets Page championed years ago — buying a tiny start-up to build Google's mobile software Android and popular video-sharing website YouTube — have begun to pay off.

Android devices had about 69% of the smartphone market in 2012, up from 49% in 2011, according to research firm IDC.

Google's YouTube has become the most popular video-sharing website in the world, bringing in an estimated $1.3 billion in advertising revenue last year. That number could reach $2 billion this year and $2.7 billion in 2014, Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser estimates.

Now Google is focusing on new products that could help search make the leap to mobile devices. Google Now, a personal assistant like Apple's Siri, anticipates what information the user might want and provides it before the user asks. Google is counting on Google Now to help it offer more useful services and more relevant ads on mobile devices.

And Google may have also found a solution — at least for now — to one of its biggest challenges: making big money from small screens.

A growing percentage of activity on Google's search engine is taking place on mobile devices, where ads generally cost less than they do on websites accessed via PCs. That has led to a decline in the amount that advertisers pay Google when someone clicks on an ad. So Google changed the rules. Advertisers must now create a single campaign, rather than separate campaigns, for different devices, and all Google ad campaigns will now include mobile ads.

"There is a clear shift under Larry in our ambitions. We were always an ambitious company. Always, always, always. But today our ambitions are bigger. They are bolder," Google search chief Amit Singhal said.

Page is fond of saying that the greatest threat to Google is Google itself. Analysts tend to agree.

They worry about costly investments in speculative projects. And they worry about Google's $12.5-billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility, a struggling hardware maker whose operations continue to bleed heavy losses.

Google executives shrugged off the concerns.

"We have a very long-term vision. What we are trying to accomplish might take more than a decade," said Vic Gundotra, senior vice president of engineering. "People may overestimate us or underestimate us. But we will stay true to our vision."

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