That combination of cash and prescience gives the company an advantage in spotting potential long-term competitive threats, too. It also helps Google expand into new areas that are just beginning to show their potential, as it did with its early backing of the Android operating system, which it bought out in 2005.
Mobile, of course, will continue to grow, but beyond phones and tablets, the company has recently begun expanding into other areas of day-to-day life. It's making a run at the living room via Chromecast, it has a strong foothold in the Internet of Things via its purchase of Nest and Dropcam, and no one, with the possible exception of the NSA, has a bigger treasure trove of data-mined personal information.
But even as it expands into those other areas, it's protecting its search and advertising base. There has been Wall Street speculation that Google attempted to acquire both Yelp and Trulia in the past five years, said Aaron Kessler of Raymond James. And while neither effort proved successful, it shows the company is already looking at emerging patterns.
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"The next wave in search is vertical," Kessler said. "There's going to be a long-term debate on whether horizontal search engines [like Google] still work well for consumers or do those consumers want more vertical ones, like using Yelp for local or Amazon for e-commerce? ... I think Google has made some strides toward answering that."
Like Amazon and Apple, Google is a company that's expanding on its core competencies and building a larger ecosystem, testing incremental services to see which might become core businesses. And in Google's case, the company is testing its reach outside the virtual world.
Nest, for example, gives the company not only a presence in homes, but the ability to further extend the data it collects from users. In June, Google announced it was connecting some apps to Nest, letting people use voice commands to change the temperature, but, in the process, allowing the company to know whether they were at home or not. Users had to opt in to share the information with Google.
"At the end of the day, a lot of this is about data," Rice said. "Data is going to be, if not the currency, the fuel for a lot of things Google is doing. They know what's popular with Nest. They're going to know more about your home and energy use—and they're spending a lot of investment capital on alternative energy programs."
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