Can Google Play Make Android Tablets Attractive?

Just yesterday, I wrote a piece about the competition facing Apple’s forthcoming iPad, in which I mentioned Google’s failure to create a unified, compelling case for Android tablets.

Today, I was vacillating between several story ideas, trying to decide which one I’d least hate seeing swallowed up by the iPad3 stories that will be flooding your news feed over the next 24 hours. Turns out my procrastination was a good thing: As often happens on the eve of a major announcement by a technology vendor, a competitor has swooped in from the shadows to try to steal a little thunder for itself. Today, that company is Google, and the announcement is Google Play.

No, it’s not a game-rental service or a new ball pool at the Googleplex; this sweeping re-brand looks to unify all of Google’s media and app offerings under one roof and one marketing message. Let’s see if Google Play is just empty Buzz, or if it’s really the next Wave in content discovery.

rim shot2

Thanks; I’ll be here all week.

What It Is

To begin to understand Google Play, do yourself a favor and watch the official video. It’s definitely one of the cooler ads from our friends in Mountain View, and I’m not just saying that because I spent some of this morning hunting for steampunk technology wallpapers. It’s a legitimately fun, creative spot that stands a pretty good chance of putting a smile on your face.


And I’m TOTALLY gonna snag a screenshot from it for my Twitter profile‘s background.

Not into video? Here’s what Google has to say about Play:

“Google Play is your one-stop shop for all your favorite entertainment. With over 450,000 apps, millions of songs and books, and thousands of movies, Google Play has something for everyone. Before you decide what you want, sample a free music or book, view app ratings, reviews, and screenshots, or watch a movie trailer. Google Play is a more connected, powerful experience.”

As some Android users will instantly realize, then, this ain’t no revolutionary move. “Weird,” opined a tech-head Facebook friend of mine when I posted the news, “This isn’t exactly new, but I guess the ‘Play’ title is.”

On the facts alone, this is true; we’ve been able to access apps, music, books, and movies via the Android Market for a while, and associated services like Google Music and Google Books have kept some cloud-based content synced across devices. Why the big deal about the new unified branding, then?

It’s this: Finally, Google has a message for buying content on Android.

Simplicity Wins

Love or hate it, the name “Google Play” has one indisputable advantage: simplicity and unity. Before today, the message Google was sending to Android consumers was essentially “buy apps in the App Market, get music from Google Music, buy books from Google Books. Want a movie? We’ve got … no, not Google Movies … Movies on Android Market!” It wasn’t the worst strategy, but it was inconsistent, to say the least.

“Hold on, though,” say the sharp cookies in the crowd, “their Cupertino competitors are doing the same thing! On the iPad, you buy apps in the App Store, buy books in iBooks, buy movies and music in iTunes. How is Apple’s approach simpler?”

Well, on its face, it’s not. But in the tablet space, Apple has always enjoyed the advantage of a huge head start. My first memory of people talking about buying music with something called “iTunes” was while I was working for Nextel (look it up) in the summer of 2004. That’s eight years ago – and I was late to the news! That huge mindshare advantage serves Apple well, because they no longer need to sell the idea of the iTunes marketplace to anyone; it’s embedded in our technological culture. They can focus instead on raising awareness of iBooks, or Newsstand, or whatever new digital store they decide to trot out.

By contrast, Google is a very new player in the business of providing content, and it’s not going all that well so far; by one widely-reported account, Google Music is actually losing customers. They desperately need to provide a coherent, unified message about what exactly they offer, and how easy it is to access if you’re a Google user.

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“Well, this isn’t nearly as simple as it was on the commercial.”

That’s what they seem to be aiming for with Google Play. It’s a one-stop shop, a single brand to which they can refer customers for almost all content downloads. While it has the potential to generate confusion at first, it’s actually better than just sending everyone to the Android Market for all content -the current approach- because people have grown to associate “Android Market” with apps, and apps only. Google faced a choice to either throw resources into reversing that narrow association while retaining the “Market” name, or take an entirely new direction with “Play.” Now that we know how that decision went, the only question that remains is how they fare at execution.

Selling the Cloud

Beyond the simple act of creating this branding umbrella, though, we can see a sharpened focus on selling cloud-enabled features. The narration in the above video talks a lot about the cloud, and the official About page puts it in typical casual-Google fashion. It’s like someone inoffensively hip, with casual-but-not-TOO-casual clothes and some tasteful-but-not-scruffy stubble is asking you to check out his new project:

“How cool would it be if your entertainment was just available anywhere? Now it is. Buy a book on your Android phone and read it on the web at Buy a new album on your Android tablet and listen to it on your desktop at work. Rent a movie online and watch it anywhere on your phone. That’s the beauty of the cloud.”

Google PLay cloud rsz2

It’s … it’s beautiful.

“How cool would that be?” Pretty damn cool! Unfortunately, our hip friend only gives us that opening paragraph of casually-cool copy before he bails, leaving the rest of the page to kind of generic salesman-speak typical of marketing departments. But even that’s not enough to spoil it … because cloud-enabled capabilities like this really ARE cool. And now that Google has a memorable, unified brand name to sell those capabilities under, they stand a chance of getting through to consumers who might be considering an Android device. They have the opportunity to convey, loud and clear, “iCloud isn’t the only service that can make your life simpler. Apple’s not the only company that can give you a great experience in tablets. Check out what your life on Google could be like.”

Of course, all of this means nothing if the search overlords can’t get developers to write compelling apps for Android tablets. As demonstrated by RIM’s Blackberry App World and Palm’s App Catalog, presenting a unified storefront doesn’t matter if you can’t fill it with compelling product. Still, creating that attractive storefront is an important step, if you can convince developers that their apps will be more likely to sell as a result of it. The same logic applies to content providers: they want assurances that their content will be sold in an attractive, well-trafficked venue. Google hasn’t been able to say that before.

But now, with Google Play’s cohesive, cool-sounding, easy-to-sell appeal, I don’t think that’s a hard case to make anymore (regardless of the initial reaction to the service’s brand name). The road to upping the mindshare of “those Google Android tablets” just got a little less bumpy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my tablet and I are off to Play a book.

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About The Author
Michael Fisher
Michael Fisher has followed the world of mobile technology for over ten years as hobbyist, retailer, and reviewer. A lengthy stint as a Sprint Nextel employee and a long-time devotion to webOS have cemented his love for the underdog platforms of the world. In addition to serving as Pocketnow's Reviews Editor, Michael is a stage, screen, and voice actor, as well as co-founder of a profitable YouTube-based business. He lives in Boston, MA. Read more about Michael Fisher!