Inside Google's ongoing struggle to crack the hardware market

Why Google keeps selling hardware
Why Google keeps selling hardware

Google's hardware business is really confusing. It considers companies like Samsung both a partner on Android and a competitor when it comes to phones. It uses the Nexus brand for the Nexus One and Nexus Q, the Chrome name on Chromebooks and Chromecast, and the Pixel moniker for the Pixel 4 and PixelBook Go.

Then there's Nest, the umbrella brand for Nest Home Hub and Nest WiFi, and Google's own name, which shows up on Google Home and Google Glass.

Only a few of these products have proven successful, and Google's parent company, Alphabet, doesn't make much money from hardware despite its roughly $900 billion market capitalization. Through acquisitions, partnerships and internal design and development, Google has stitched together a product line that makes the company's complete vision hard to see.

Google, remember, makes the vast majority of its revenue from advertising.

"The reason for Google's hardware existence is to be able to provide leading-edge ways to gather data on the consumers who have it and to be able to build profiles and subsequently provide advertising back to them," said Patrick Moorhead, founder of Moor Insights & Strategy.

Google has parlayed its dominance in internet advertising into the mobile software world, where Android leads the global smartphone market and ChromeOS powers more than half the mobile devices in U.S. schools.

But when it comes to surrounding those popular services with its own hardware, Google has faced a persistent challenge.

To learn more about Google's hardware history and its plans for the future, watch CNBC's in-depth video.