What Is the Difference Between Google and Alphabet?

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Google has been around since 1997 and grew from a search engine (originally called BackRub) into a gigantic company that made everything from software to self-driving cars. In August 2015, Google split up and became multiple subsidiary companies, including one called Google, and Alphabet became the holding company that owned them all.

For consumers, not much changed with the switch. Alphabet is represented as GOOG on the NASDAQ stock exchange, just the same as Google used to be.

Most of the best-known products remain under the Google umbrella.

The new multiple-company organization is modeled after Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, where management is highly decentralized and each subsidiary company is given a lot of autonomy.

Alphabet

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin run Alphabet, with Page as the CEO and Brin as the president. Because they're now running a larger (and largely silent) holding company, they appointed new CEOs for the companies owned by Alphabet.

Google

Google is the largest subsidiary of Alphabet. Google now mostly contains the search engine and apps most commonly associated with Google. Those include Google Search, Google Maps, YouTube, and AdSense. Google also owns Android and the Android-related services, like Google Play. Google is by far the largest of the Alphabet subsidiary companies with about nine out of every ten Alphabet employees working for Google.

The CEO of Google is Sundar Pichai, who worked at the (larger Google) company since 2004. Prior to assuming the position of CEO, Pichai had been chief of product. YouTube still has a separate CEO, Susan Wojcicki, although she now reports to Pichai.

Initially, many of Alphabet's other subsidiary companies also had a "Google" name, like Google Fiber, or Google Ventures, but they rebranded after the Alphabet restructuring.

Fiber (Google Fiber)

Fiber, or Google Fiber as it used to be known, is Alphabet's high-speed internet service provider. Fiber is available in a limited number of cities, including Kansas City (both Missouri and Kansas), Austin Texas, and Provo Utah. Fiber customers can purchase internet and TV cable packages at competitive rates, although the business model may not be as profitable as Alphabet hoped. 

After becoming a separate company under Alphabet, some of Fiber's initial expansion plans were curtailed. Anticipated expansions into Portland Oregon and other cities were put on hold indefinitely as the company announced they were searching for cheaper and more innovative ways to deliver high-speed internet to cities. Fiber purchased Webpass shortly before announcing their delay in Fiber expansion.

Nest

Nest is a hardware company heavily involved with smart-home devices, also known as part of the Internet of Things. Google purchased the startup in 2014 but always kept it as a separately branded company rather than renaming all the products "Google." That turned out to be wise as Alphabet companies lost the Google label. Nest makes the Nest smart thermostat, indoor and outdoor security cameras that can be monitored from your smartphone, and a smoke/carbon dioxide detector.

(If you wonder why you'd need an internet-connected smoke alarm, the company advertises that you can use your phone to shut down the alarm when you burn popcorn.)

Nest products use the Weave platform to communicate with other devices and apps outside of the Alphabet family.

Calico

Calico is Alphabet's search for a fountain of youth. The biomedical research company was established within Google in 2013 with the mission of slowing aging and combatting age-related diseases. Calico is involved in research and development rather than making consumer-facing products like some other subsidiaries of Alphabet.

Verily (Google Life Sciences)

Verily was previously known as "Google Life Sciences." Verily is also a medical research branch. The company is designing a non-commercial health-monitoring watch for medical research, and it has announced partnerships with other companies. Verily is partnering with GlaxoSmithKline to form Galvani Bioelectronics, a company researching a cutting-edge new treatment using tiny chips that alter nerves to reverse some diseases. Verily is also partnering with the French drug company, Sanofi, to make a diabetes-specific research company called Onduo.

GV (Google Ventures)

Google Ventures rebranded as GV, and it is a venture capital firm. By investing in startups, GV can encourage innovative companies and also scout them out for potential acquisition by Alphabet (as happened after GV invested in Nest). GV investments have included technology companies like Slack and DocuSign, consumer companies like Uber and Medium, health and life sciences companies like 23andMe and Flatiron Health, and robotics companies like Carbon and Jaunt.

X (Google X)

X was formerly known as Google X. Google X was the semi-secret skunkworks branch of Google that looked at "moonshots" like self-driving cars, contact lenses that cure diabetes, product delivery drones, kites that generate wind energy, and weather balloon-powered internet service.

CapitalG (Google Capital)

Like GV, CapitalG invests in innovative companies. The difference is that GV invests in startups and CapitalG selects companies that are slightly further along - companies that have already proved their idea works and are growing the business. CapitalG's investments include companies you may have heard of, such as Snapchat, Airbnb, SurveyMonkey, Glassdoor, and Duolingo.

Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics is a robotics company that began as a spin-off from the Massachusettes Institute of Technology. They're best known for a series of videos of robots, such as animal-like robots that can be pushed over and recover. Boston Dynamics faces an uncertain future at Alphabet and may be sold off. Some projects and engineers have already been reassigned to X. Boston Dynamics is rumored to be a disappointment to Alphabet because it is not currently producing anything of practical commercial potential.

Boston Dynamics is (possibly) a casualty of the Alphabet restructuring, but other companies spun out of Google/Alphabet, including Niantic, which makes Ingress and the extremely popular Pokémon Go game, a location-based mobile app. Niantic left Alphabet a few days after the Google/Alphabet restructuring. In Niantic's case, the move was not because the company was unprofitable or did not have a solid vision. Niantic is a game company, while Google/Alphabet focuses on platforms.