Highlights from Google’s Annual Shareholder Meeting

Michael Teague  |

Google annual shareholder meeting in Mountain View, California arrived this year at a time when the company is at the top of its game. Google is having success where its competitors are struggling. While Apple (AAPL) is beginning to show declining sales for its mobile products, and has many other troubles besides, Google’s Android operating system is the world’s most popular smartphone platform, and many Google aps are now available on Apple’s iOS.

Facebook’s (FB) mobile strategy has made the company a great deal of money in a short period of time, and is the closest thing Google has to competition in terms of mobile advertising dollars. But Google’s business strategy is part of a broad and more coherent vision that only a company of its size and significance can afford itself.

The meeting started off with shareholders voting down four proposals related to the company’s disposal of lead batteries at its facilities, equal voting for shareholders, senior executive stock ownership, and leadership succession planning.

Once business was through, Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt started off his address by reminding shareholders that the company uses a language of “big bets”. To illustrate, he cited the success of Gmail, a service that currently has 425 million users, after entering a saturated market in which it was thought the possibilities for innovation had been exhausted. Similarly, he recalled how when Android was first released, even some of the company’s own executives thought Andrew Rubin’s idea of an open source mobile operating system was “nuts”.

But Schmidt’s laid out the company’s forward-thinking vision succinctly and persuasively, in a way that underlined the unified direction of Google’s various endeavors even better than the opening sequence of the company’s developer’s conference in San Francisco a few weeks ago.

Schmidt described Google Now, the company’s personal assistant software, as one of the centerpieces of its current developments, saying that the company has “always believed that the perfect search engine would understand exactly what you meant and give you exactly what you wanted.” Now is able to and will continue to get better and better at anticipating a user’s needs.

There was also significant emphasis on Google’s efforts to do away with the notion of “syncing” devices altogether. Given the level of integration that already exists and is constantly being refined by the company, users can simply hop to different devices to pick up exactly where they left off thanks to the Chrome/Android relationship.

Google Maps also took some of the spotlight given the app’s relevance to the company’s efforts to enhance what Schmidt referred to as the “search experience”.

But the meeting was not without some controversy, which was pre-empted by the chairman himself during his talk, when he said “new technologies always, always raise new issues for society. This was true when the telephone was invented. It was true when the camera was invented. We have a responsibility as a company to be thoughtful about how we design our products and we always need to focus on the end user benefit. That’s the principle that drives the decision making inside the company.”

Schmidt essentially downplayed the recent concerns over Google Glass and privacy that were likely to come in the question and answer session, noting that “concern over unreleased products” was something the company had dealt with several times before, and that such concerns are always deflated when the product actually gets used.

While the notion of self-driving cars might appear too far-fetched to imagine for some, the company is certainly taking it seriously, and it is not hard to see how such a product could integrate very nicely into the sort of cybernetic-mobile ecosystem Google is trying to create. Schmidt spoke of the potential for self-driving cars, saying that in “100 years- time I wonder and I really do wonder whether people will marvel that we allowed humans to drive cars. The potential to reduce accidents, to cut congestion, to get rid of lot of wasted parking lots is immense.”

There are not many companies that can afford to have such a vision of the future, much less to be so self-assured about their ability to shape that future and play a decisive role in it. But Google showed itself at Thursday’s meeting to have both the necessary technology, and the know-how to put it all together. This is perhaps why the company’s stock is up nearly 50 percent over the last 12 months, to its current $875 per share price.

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