Alphabet to sell off Terra Bella satellite unit, impacting Google Maps - report

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Google parent Alphabet is reportedly in talks to sell its satellite imaging unit, Terra Bella, in a deal that could impact the future of Google Maps and competition with Apple's own Maps app.




The unit would be sold to a startup, Planet Labs, that is actually seeking new venture funding to help pay for the acquisition, sources told the Wall Street Journal. Indeed the alleged deal would involve handing Alphabet a mix of cash and equity.

Terra Bella was previously known as Skybox Imaging, and bought by Google in 2014 for $500 million. In its current incarnation, the unit has seven satellites for capturing data, which is then used in Google Maps and/or sold to third parties.

Google is said to have decided, however, that it's more cost-effective to buy imagery from outside parties, rather than launch and operate its own satellites.




For Planet, an acquisition could make it more competitive, as former workers say it has been struggling to find customers. While it operates dozens of satellites, each weighs about 10 pounds and can only snap low-resolution images. Terra Bella's satellites are far larger, with higher-quality capture.

Under CFO Ruth Porat, Alphabet has been cutting back on some of Google's more ambitious and/or expensive efforts -- for instance halting Google Fiber expansion plans, at least until wireless options make them more affordable.

Apple has so far been heavily dependent on third-party mapping data, though it has been touring its own vehicles around cities worldwide. If Alphabet does sell off Terra Bella, it could potentially put Apple and Google on a more level playing field.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 15
    Will this make it easier for governments around the world to affect censorship of satellite imagery?
    quazze
  • Reply 2 of 15
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 15,789member
    Has Google been using Skybox imagery for Google Maps? Perhaps but they've certainly been using other sources too if they have. As for selling Skybox to Planet labs they'll gain ownership in that company with the sale according to reports so if they need the resources I'm sure they can have them. The good thing is Apple could buy from Planet Labs too if it's advantageous. That's a good thing for mobile users in general. 
    1983
  • Reply 3 of 15
    john.bjohn.b Posts: 2,669member
    Apple's problem with Maps continues to be POI data, not any lack of high res satellite imagery. 
    calimonstrosity
  • Reply 4 of 15
    The really big underlying story is how Google (Alphabet) is slowly, but steadily, selling off a lot of their extraneous stuff, in the process starting to become a more focused company. It's because of their CFO, Ruth Porat.
    edited January 11 ration aldavenquazze1983
  • Reply 5 of 15
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 15,789member
    The really big underlying story is how Google (Alphabet) is slowly, but steadily, selling off a lot of their extraneous stuff, in the process starting to become a more focused company. It's because of their CFO, Ruth Porat.
    Yup. A bit of sanity in the asylum. They're also dispersing the Titan Team who was tasked with developing drones to provide internet to remote areas. 

    Remember too that Google is a significant investor in Elon Musk's SpaceX. 
    edited January 11
  • Reply 6 of 15
    Terra Bella/Skybox is amazing (as a geologist I've followed its progression).  Not sure of the business model (which is why Alphabet is probably selling it), the quality of the digital images and the fact that the satellites can scan any part of the earth each day (or even multiple times per day) is impressive.  Sats are low earth orbits so there are some costs/maintenance associated with keeping everything up there.  

    I had always figured that Alphabet would use multiple images of the location from different angles to automate 3-d imaging, but maybe that didn't work out (theoretically it should be possible)
  • Reply 7 of 15
    macguimacgui Posts: 218member
    john.b said:
    Apple's problem with Maps continues to be POI data, not any lack of high res satellite imagery. 
    True enough, but it's not a problem for me. Maps has always been my go-to folding map replacement app for get there from here jaunts. Despite all the hate and discontent it garnered on the InnerTubes, it's always worked very well for me, with one small exception— giving me a long way around out of a new housing tract. That's since been corrected.

    I have Navigon for the times that I need a fully fledged navigation app, will POIs and all the other bells and whistles, including offline use. (Maps does this as well when I enter my route on WiFi. I just can't deviate much.)

    Google Maps, Here, and two other mapping apps are on my phone, but I haven't yet needed them.
  • Reply 8 of 15
    gatorguy said:
    Has Google been using Skybox imagery for Google Maps? Perhaps but they've certainly been using other sources too if they have. As for selling Skybox to Planet labs they'll gain ownership in that company with the sale according to reports so if they need the resources I'm sure they can have them. The good thing is Apple could buy from Planet Labs too if it's advantageous. That's a good thing for mobile users in general. 
    I'd rather Apple take a pass on the satellite company and acquire some company to get a "Street View" function for AppleMaps. Why can't Apple at least try to compete with Google and Bing. Apple's got the money to do so.
  • Reply 9 of 15
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 1,565moderator
    The really big underlying story is how Google (Alphabet) is slowly, but steadily, selling off a lot of their extraneous stuff, in the process starting to become a more focused company. It's because of their CFO, Ruth Porat.
    Score another point for Apple not getting distracted in the first place. $500 million that Google paid was not its biggest acquisition (see, Nest, Motorola), but its about the amount Apple lost in its largest gaff (the GTAT sapphire deal). Apple remains, to its credit, focused where it should be.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 15
    The really big underlying story is how Google (Alphabet) is slowly, but steadily, selling off a lot of their extraneous stuff, in the process starting to become a more focused company. It's because of their CFO, Ruth Porat.
    Score another point for Apple not getting distracted in the first place. $500 million that Google paid was not its biggest acquisition (see, Nest, Motorola), but its about the amount Apple lost in its largest gaff (the GTAT sapphire deal). Apple remains, to its credit, focused where it should be.
    For a company its size, yes, AppleInsider is focused. But there are areas that it could prune. I personally think that Apple should not be in the content business -- e.g., iBooks, Apple Music -- but go back to its focus on hardware.

    Apple also needs to go back to dramatically simplifying its software. 
  • Reply 11 of 15
    jSnivelyjSnively Posts: 200administrator
    The really big underlying story is how Google (Alphabet) is slowly, but steadily, selling off a lot of their extraneous stuff, in the process starting to become a more focused company. It's because of their CFO, Ruth Porat.
    Score another point for Apple not getting distracted in the first place. $500 million that Google paid was not its biggest acquisition (see, Nest, Motorola), but its about the amount Apple lost in its largest gaff (the GTAT sapphire deal). Apple remains, to its credit, focused where it should be.
    For a company its size, yes, AppleInsider is focused. But there are areas that it could prune. I personally think that Apple should not be in the content business -- e.g., iBooks, Apple Music -- but go back to its focus on hardware.

    Apple also needs to go back to dramatically simplifying its software. 
    Awww, you autocomplete us (◠‿◠)
    bestkeptsecretquazzewatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 15
    gatorguy said:
    The really big underlying story is how Google (Alphabet) is slowly, but steadily, selling off a lot of their extraneous stuff, in the process starting to become a more focused company. It's because of their CFO, Ruth Porat.
    Yup. A bit of sanity in the asylum. They're also dispersing the Titan Team who was tasked with developing drones to provide internet to remote areas. 


    Not to be confused with Project Titan, which is Apple's car project.

    If Alphabet didn't get rid of the Titan Team and Apple's Project Titan results in a car, somewhere in the future, an Alphabet drone would crash into an Apple car for the inevitable clash of the titans...

    1983watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 15
    holyoneholyone Posts: 251member
    gatorguy said:
    The really big underlying story is how Google (Alphabet) is slowly, but steadily, selling off a lot of their extraneous stuff, in the process starting to become a more focused company. It's because of their CFO, Ruth Porat.
    Yup. A bit of sanity in the asylum. They're also dispersing the Titan Team who was tasked with developing drones to provide internet to remote areas. 


    Not to be confused with Project Titan, which is Apple's car project.

    If Alphabet didn't get rid of the Titan Team and Apple's Project Titan results in a car, somewhere in the future, an Alphabet drone would crash into an Apple car for the inevitable clash of the titans...

    Too funny yo :D
  • Reply 14 of 15
    badmonkbadmonk Posts: 553member
    The really big underlying story is how Google (Alphabet) is slowly, but steadily, selling off a lot of their extraneous stuff, in the process starting to become a more focused company. It's because of their CFO, Ruth Porat.
    yes the Wall Street masters have cone knocking.  they are also selling (or have sold) Boston Robotics.  and choked YouTube with an obscene amount of ads.


    Let's see how long it lasts.  i can't believe i am saying this but i think Facebook has an advantage over Google in that the mining of personal data comes directly to them from their users.
  • Reply 15 of 15
    Neither company respects privacy. But for data mining and profiling, Facebook's model is far better than Google's. Amazon's model is better also. Unlike Facebook and Google, Amazon doesn't sell the information they accumulate on their own customers. 

    Google is finding themselves increasingly locked out of the most profitable mobile platform. The second most profitable mobile platform, namely Samsung, is also dedicated to moving away from Google. 

    I personally have purged Google from all of my devices. Apple maps is nice enough. And Apple's avoidance of street view is a plus. I resent Google posting pictures of my home all over the Internet. I would be happy to see Google maps and the street view function go away all together. 

    Satellite imagery isn't all it's cracked out to be anyway. Satellite cameras cannot see past the smog of the major Chinese cities.

    In addition, Google street view doesn't exist in China either. Even in a democracy like South Korea, Google search is used minimally. 

    I own Apple devices nearly exclusively but have expanded to include the Echo and looking at adding the Gear S3 frontier. Google will have no place in my home. To be fair, Facebook won't either. But between the two, Facebook has the better model. Google failed to compete with Google+, but Amazon's Alexa has the potential to displace Google search. Even Woz himself recognized the potential of Alexa as the next big thing in computing. 

    http://bostinno.streetwise.co/2016/03/17/amazon-echo-apps-vs-siri-wozniak-alexa-app-platform/

    Google assistant has already lost. Essentially no developer community unlike the case with Alexa. 

    Google got lucky with Android. They won't catch anyone off guard the next time. Their poor attempts at copying others will fail. Why investors believe in the company is beyond me. 
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