May 22, 2014, 3:38 PM

Google wants to claim space on consumers’ refrigerators

A letter to the SEC indicates how Google envisions the future of search.

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As if the the average refrigerator wasn’t cluttered enough by honey-do lists, children’s attempts at art and magnets from rest stops and tourist traps that hug the nation’s interstates—now Google Inc. anticipates serving ads on that kitchen anchor in the coming years.

No one should be terribly surprised. The so-called “Internet of Things” is a phrase that has gained increasing use in the past year or so as analysts, retailers, consumers and the highest minds at Google plan for a near future when all kinds of household devices, daily consumer goods and pretty much every car will connect to the web. For instance, a windshield wiper might tell the car’s computer it needs to be replaced. A milk carton could alert the refrigerator that it’s time to buy more milk.

But a recently released letter Google sent to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission offers further evidence that one of the largest e-commerce operators in the world is, indeed, envisioning a world where digital ads and content will pop up everywhere. “A few years from now,” states the letter, dated Dec. 20, 2013, but released only this week, “we and other companies could be serving ads and other content on refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glass and watches, to name just a few possibilities.”

Lest anyone think Google is merely talking a big game, consider its $3.2 billion purchase of Nest, a seller of web-connected smoke alarms and thermostats. And that’s to say nothing of the ongoing rollout of Google Glasses and the company’s attempt to put self-driving cars on roads.

Google wrote the letter to the SEC in response to the agency’s request for clarification about issues related to cost-per-click and mobile search financial metrics. Google’s explanation involves the role of foreign currency, market factors, user preferences and other issues. That then leads to Google discussing the changing role of mobile and what mobile has come to mean for the search giant—an especially relevant point given Google’s Enhanced Campaigns ad format, which launched in 2013 and enables marketers to manage all their Google paid search campaigns for any device from one central location.

“It is increasingly challenging to define what exactly a ‘mobile’ platform is from period to period and what it will be going forward,” says the letter, signed by Google director of finance Amie Thuener. The letter says that most industry observers previously included tablets and smartphones in their definition of mobile. Google used that definition until at least the third quarter of 2013, including both handset and tablet revenue in its mobile revenue run rates in its financial reports. “However,” the letter continues, “as tablets gained momentum in the market, it became clear to us that their usage has much more in common with desktops than with handsets.”

Google provided no further details in the letter about why its view of tablets has changed, but Thuener expects more changes to how e-commerce operators define mobile as “more ‘smart’ devices gain traction in the market.”

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