Google needed some filler to stick between yesterday’s double-whammy of announcements at I/O 2012. As luck would have it, those of us in the audience also needed some breathing time after the awesome improvements in Jelly Bean were unveiled, and Google also wanted to lay a solid foundation for the Nexus 7 reveal. Thus, the additions to the Google Play Store served as the meat in yesterday’s news sandwich. A less-interesting meat than the bread, really -more like sliced turkey on an everything bagel- but still full of substance.
The long and short of it: the Google Play Store now features downloadable, purchase-able movies and magazines- the perfect kind of content you’d want to make available if, say, your company just launched a 7″ tablet. But the fun times aren’t confined to the Nexus 7 owners; the new Google Play Store experience will soon be made available to all Android users.
I decided to take the two biggest feature additions -magazines and movies- for a test drive on both my Galaxy Nexus LTE and a Sprint Galaxy S III. At first, neither device was furnished with the new Google Play Store app (I hadn’t yet read Anton D. Nagy’s piece on where to download it for existing devices), so I took the back-door approach and visited the Play Store via my desktop browser. I’m going to be doing some air travel in the coming weeks, and when I’m hurtling across the continent in an aluminum tube, I generally favor reading. So the first thing I decided to try was magazines.
Words, Words, Words
I didn’t even have to search for Popular Science, the magazine that helped kick-start my obsession with technology in my youth; the publication was listed as one of the top recommendations on the Google Play web interface. Best of all, there was a bit of added incentive, which was also mentioned at the announcement:
Selecting the “subscribe” link earned me some pop-up love, in the form of more options:
I decided to go ahead with a monthly subscription, figuring that if this didn’t get me back into long-form reading, nothing would. I hit continue …
… and ran smack into a spam monster. Many of the publications the Google Play store supports are mired in old-school thinking, and they’re so, so hungry for your contact information. As you can see above, Popular Science is no exception. Make sure to un-check those contact boxes if you don’t want weekly reminders about “how much you can save! if you just subscribe! for four years!!!”
Anyway, once that unpleasantness was out of the way, I clicked on, and finally reached the last step of the process.
That link to the “Google Play Magazines App” looked enticing. Considering I wasn’t yet running the new version of the Play Store on any of my devices. I didn’t want to be stuck with a magazine subscription and no way to read the magazine, so I clicked the link and was quickly ushered through the process of pushing the new app to my devices. A few seconds later, they confirmed their new status as surrogate e-readers:
The process of reading the magazine was predictably simple. Apple pioneered the popular approach with its Newsstand app, of course, but I’ve never made much use of it on my iOS devices, so this was one of my first experiences digesting electronic periodicals on a smartphone. Downloading the entire July issue to my Galaxy Nexus took about a minute over WiFi, and flipping it open to the middle gave me a quick introduction to the UI paradigm, which was quite simple.
As you might expect, you can swipe through the full-page preview ribbon along the bottom to quickly jump to any other part of the magazine. Tapping any page will display it in the main viewing area in the center. Because pinch-zooming on scanned magazine pages isn’t always the easiest way to read an article, though, the app gives us the handy “View Text” button on the upper right, which strips away the formatting and gives us a plain text treatment.
In the short time I experimented with the magazine interface, I found a lot to like. Obviously this is going to be a much better experience on a tablet form factor; even with today’s gargantuan screen sizes, the smartphone just isn’t a big enough platform to display magazine-formatted copy ideally. Possibly the only exception I’ve seen to this rule is Flipboard, which is something different entirely. But the important thing is that the Google Play Store is well-thought-out, it’s fluid, and it makes it easy to find new content.
Fortunately for Google, I can say pretty much the same thing for video.
The Idiot Box
Not all folks are avid readers, and even those who are enjoy the occasional vacation from endless lines of text. Enter the other half of the content equation in the new Google Play Store: downloadable movies and TV, ready for rent or purchase. As this is an expansion of the Play Store’s earlier offerings, I decided to entirely skip throwing it the usual search softballs, like Transformers or Battleship or Hungry Hungry Hippos, or whatever lazy tripe Hollywood is cranking out this summer. Instead, I opted to kick off my new Google content experience by searching for a TV series you’ve never seen and probably never will: the Canadian cult dramedy Slings & Arrows. Can you guess how that went?
You know what, though? I expected that. Not every content store can be expected to cater to every corner of the prospective audience, particularly not out in the fringe territories some of us occupy. Some of Google’s content partnerships are still pretty new, too, so they deserve a little flexibility here. And, anyway, it turns out they at least stocked my old standby.
I’ve recently been telling anyone who’ll listen about my desire to re-watch Star Trek III (also known as “the Star Trek movie where Christopher Lloyd plays a Klingon”), so I decided to seize the opportunity. Tapping the link dropped me into a purchasing dialog, where I had a choice to make:
I appreciated the terms and conditions being laid out right on the pop-up: instantly I knew how much time I had to start watching, and how much time I’d have once I pressed play. That’s if I rented the movie; if I elected to purchase it outright (for a rather exorbitant price, I might add), it would go into my “library,” from which I could watch it on “compatible devices.” As I already own several copies of the film, I decided to go ahead and rent it. Seeing no reason to rent an HD-quality version of a movie released in 1984, I stuck with SD. I was greeted by an unexpected surprise when Google Play gave me the option to play it on my desktop, right inside Chrome, which looked fantastic and ran very smoothly. Fair warning, though: the option to view the movie on your desktop disappears if you’ve downloaded the movie to one of your devices for offline viewing.
When opening the movie on my Galaxy Nexus, I was first politely warned that the rental clock would start running if I began playback. After I confirmed, the movie played flawlessly. Note to screen-grabbers, though: Google Play is hip to your schemes and way ahead of you.
You’ll have to rely on Netflix for all your mobile-screencapping needs for now:
Speaking of Netflix, the new Google content offering isn’t going to be replacing our favorite red-slathered streaming service anytime soon. Sure, there’s a lot of content to be had on the Play Store, but it’s got a lot of growing up to do- and the pricing isn’t exactly the best deal out there. In the meantime, it’s best thought of as an augmentation to existing services. In particular, Google Play is a great gap-filler when used in concert with Netflix: the former hosts all of the Star Trek films but none of the TV episodes, while the latter offers the exact opposite arrangement. That’s a winning combination, and it’s one I’m willing to bet exists even outside my narrow little viewing universe. Oh and plus, there’s zombies, so … yeah. Good times.
It’s going to be interesting watching the Google Play Store grow up and sprout even more offerings as Google continues expanding into the arena of content providers. There’s little reason not to start poking around the current library now, so either click into the Play Store from your Gmail screen on your desktop browser, or download the new Jelly Bean-optimized Play Store App to your Android device. You’ll get a glimpse at the likely future direction of Google’s content play, and maybe you’ll find something worth watching or reading in the process.
Found your favorite TV show in the Google Play Store? Angry that Mountain View wants $3 for that old episode of Hogan’s Heroes? Uncovered any convenient tricks for navigating the new magazine storefront? Drop your comments below!