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Google warns of new rivals in digital assistants and hardware

Saturday, February 4, 2017 - 14:23

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Alphabet Inc warned investors about a slew of new competitors, highlighting the company's broad expansion beyond its original Google search business.

[SAN FRANCISCO] Alphabet Inc warned investors about a slew of new competitors, highlighting the company's broad expansion beyond its original Google search business. 

Alphabet named rivals including Apple, Netflix and Hulu, while highlighting risks from new businesses such as consumer hardware manufacturing, according to its latest annual report filed on Friday with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Here are the top new competitive disclosures, gleaned from a comparison between Alphabet's latest annual report and the filing from a year earlier:

- "Providers of digital video services, such as Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu."

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Google's YouTube has new paid subscription versions of its online video offering that compete more directly with the latter three companies.

Executives were cautiously optimistic about this on an earnings call last week. "(It) takes a while to build a subscription business here," chief financial officer Ruth Porat said.

- "Digital assistant providers, such as Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft."

Last year, the company launched its Google Assistant, a voice-based information service that Google hopes to embed in as many devices as possible. That competes against Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa and Microsoft's Cortana. Facebook has a similar service in its Messenger app. 

- "Providers of enterprise cloud services, including Amazon and Microsoft." This refers to Google's cloud computing business, which executive Diane Greene is finally turning into a serious service for larger corporate customers. Alphabet mentioned the cloud in previous annual reports, but the focus on enterprise is new. 

- "Companies that design, manufacture, and market consumer electronics products." This likely refers to Google's new suite of gadgets, including the Pixel phone and Home speaker. The phone makes it a rival to Apple, and Android device makers like Samsung Electronics. 

Speaking of hardware, Alphabet's latest annual report highlighted new manufacturing and supply-chain risks related to its in-house gadget push. "We may enter into long term contracts that commit us to significant terms and conditions of supply. We may be liable for material and product that is not consumed due to market acceptance, technological change, obsolescences, quality, product recalls, and warranty issues," the company wrote. 

Alphabet also disclosed the cost of marketing these new devices to potential buyers.

Total sales and marketing expenses increased by more than US$1.4 billion from 2015 to 2016 - mainly due to a US$679 million jump in advertising and promotional costs for Google's hardware products, the filing said.

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