Jason Ogaard: Google is an advertising company
It took me awhile to figure out what Google is. They started out with search and became the best search engine on the Internet. Years later Google added email (gmail), calendars, even maps. The thing is, Google gives all these services away for free. In exchange for using their services they collect data on you and serve you ads. Google is really an advertising company.
Every time you do a search, every time you look at your gmail inbox, every time you add an event to your calendar Google learns something new about you. They know what your interests are, what you like, what you don't like, what you're doing, when you're doing it. Google uses this information to serve ads that are relevant to your interests. Google has an ad network called adwords. Marketers purchase adwords via auction, Google then displays them based on the most relevant ads to the user weighed with the highest paid ad. It's in Google's best interest to serve you ads that you're interested in because you're much more likely to click on them.
Google has a second ad network called adsense. Adsense provides a script that web developers can use to insert Google ads onto their site. The developer then gets paid when their visitors click on the ads (Google takes a percentage of course). Selling these ads is how Google makes most of their money, even today.
Today Google can gather a lot more information about you than ever before. They give away their Android operating system for free, currently it's the most popular mobile OS in the world. If you use an Android phone Google can track just about everything you do on it. In addition to the Android operating system Google has created a flurry of mobile apps that are available on several platforms. Google Maps is widely used on Apple products, Google Now, Gmail, and several other Google services are available to users on all mobile devices. This means that Google can gather metrics on mobile users of all platforms, not just their own.
This is a problem for companies like Apple and Microsoft. As a person that uses products from all three companies on a daily basis I can tell you that the services Google provides is easily the best, and they're free. My gmail account has better uptime than my work email account. A free service provided to me has better uptime than something my employer spends a lot of money to have around. My Google cloud services work much better than anything that Apple has provided so far.
I've read a number of articles lately that make the assertion that Google is getting better at user interface faster than Apple is getting at services. Historically Google has been known for having a bad user experience. Recently Google has worked hard on that and they've managed to make their products and services rather user friendly. Contrast that to Apple, who have historically been known for good user interface, are now faced with trying to catch up to Google in services. So far Google is winning that battle.
This is a problem for Apple and Microsoft. People are more willing to switch to Google phones and other products away from Apples or Microsoft because the experience is becoming just as good and the cost of ownership is much lower. Chances are you use several Google services on a daily basis, you might not even know it.
Check out their list of products, the number available is amazing and they're free (for personal use): https://www.google.com/about/products/
JASON OGAARD was born in Bemidji and is a software engineer for FICO, a Minneapolis-based public company providing analytics and decision-making services, including credit scoring credit bureaus.