Google Play: The Ecosystem Relaunches

Back in February last year, Google made a pretty big step by bringing the Android Market to the web through your browser, aiding the discovery and installation of apps off-device. And at other various points in recent history, the company has introduced music services, as well as accompanying marketplaces for books and movies. They’ve all been available, but as individual services that’s caused one big mess and forever shown how Apple’s simplistic approach has reigned superior.

No longer, as Google has introduced Google Play, tying together the various Google storefronts into one location with shelves for music, movies, apps, games and books. In addition to simply consolidating everything (which is already a major improvement), Google have taken some inspiration from iCloud and enforced an “everything, everywhere” mantra. In this article, we’re going to review Google’s updated service’s web app.

Interface (Hint: It’s Much Simpler)

Google Play doesn’t offer up anything revolutionary when it comes to its design and interface. In fact, you’ll find it difficult to notice any differences between this and the old Android Market which means users won’t need to adjust to start using the new site. The storefront is very simple, and highlights featured apps and promotions that will make sure you can easily discover great, and cheap, applications.

Google has added a new navigation bar at the top, which offers fast access to the various categories of product and to the content you’ve already bought/downloaded, making it super easy to access past purchases.

Google Play's homepage for the Android Apps section.

The Power of the Cloud

With Google Play, Google is taking the power of the cloud to create an “everything, everywhere” ecosystem that is suspiciously close to what Apple introduced last year. According to Google, one of the cornerstone features of Google Play is its cloud-based syncing that allows you to purchase something on one device and have it immediately available on all your devices.

I’ve had this functionality for several months now on iOS and I can vouch for how useful it is. It’s been incredibly convenient to buy a song on my iPad, then return to my desk and see it available on my Mac to continue playing. So while Google Play’s feature is definitely not anything revolutionary, it’s still a catch up move that users will appreciate.

Due to territorial restrictions I’m unable to try this out, but from what I can tell Google Play incorporates Google Music’s streaming nature in that, unlike iCloud, it doesn’t simply sync files. This should eliminate some storage issues by having all your content stored in the cloud to be synced across, saving you money on storage expansion.

Google Play gives access to your media across all enabled devices.

A Step in the Right Direction

While this is no doubt a movie to catch up with what Apple has on offer, it’s a step in the right direction by Google. In my opinion, Apple’s ecosystem has not yet been matched, although, from a content perspective, Amazon’s definitely on their way to doing so. Google’s brought together its key properties into a single app that makes content discovery and purchasing incredibly convenient, and has one core attraction: cloud-powered content distribution across all supported devices.

I’m not sure why, but Google’s ecosystem has always seemed more messy to me. Perhaps it’s simply due to the sheer number of services that Google offer for your account, but it’s always been clear some consolidation has been in order. The Mountain View crew have done the community proud by putting together something that feels a lot more solid and intuitive than any previous individual offering.

An individual item's page in Google Play.

Conclusion

Something that I’ve heard our editor stress many times is Google’s choice of nomenclature when it comes to Android. Hopefully he doesn’t mind me quoting him making a point that’s incredibly valid, especially when you actually think about the ramifications of renaming:

A lot of press releases and the like actually refer to the Android Market by the wrong name already: Android App Store, Android Marketplace, etc.

It's not just about Android.

It’s certainly going to be a bonus for Google if their service is actually named correctly, but by avoiding referring to the service as one focused on Android, it might start to give off the impression to perceptive consumers that Google offers more than just Android when it comes to content. Naturally you won’t be able to play Android apps or games in your browser, but the name doesn’t limit content like music or books to a specific platform.

The Google Play web app is a clean, fluid experience that’s catching up to Apple, even surpassing it in a number of areas. While I believe the iTunes Store is actually a web app contained in a native container, Google actually offers up browser access to the store, which means you can log onto a computer and sign in, without needing to run supporting software.

My main negative point: TV shows. Google needs to bring in TV content if it would ever get me to go Android full time, since I watch more TV content through iTunes than I do movies or any other source of video, including content on my physical television.


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