Google Plays Around

Google has re-branded the Android Market to the Google Play Store. While I understand this to be a part of a larger strategy to bring all of Google's offerings under one banner, I must say I'm not impressed with how this has been handled by Google. Google seems to be searching for a way to compete with the ecosystems that Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are building and by changing the branding for their digital marketplaces overnight, I will argue has caused even more confusion.

From the get go, the Google Play announcement was a strange one. Announced with nothing more than a blog post and then pushed to users with no warning or plan, it caused nothing but confusion for those who have Android devices and don't keep up with Google's latest plans. Thankfully Verizon had the foresight to send a text to Android device owners to warn them of the impending change, but that was one carrier in one country. Most consumers don't visit Google's web version of the Android Market so they wouldn't see the announcement of the change there. Instead, consumers we met with being asked to accept new terms of service when they launched the Market the next time which would then replace the Market with the Play Store on their devices. On my Epic Touch 4G this transition was not smooth. After accepting the terms, I exited the store only to want to re-enter it by tapping the Market shortcut I had placed on my home screen. I was greeted with a "This application is no longer installed on your device" error message.

I know I was not the only one to face this problem. Other's who removed the shortcut from their home screens,  upon entering their app drawer to re-add the Market shortcut, found they couldn't find the Market app anymore and wrongly assumed that they had somehow deleted the Market from their devices. My own fiancee faced this very situation, and only after explaining the change and what icon she needed, was she able to get back to the Play Store. This has not been an isolated incident either.

I understand Google's approach. They feel they need to re-brand and bring all of their digital offerings under one banner to better market their storefronts to consumers, who for the most part seem to be shying away from purchasing premium content in Google's markets. The problems is Google doesn't have a robust tablet and desktop experience like Apple and Microsoft. If you want to enjoy the music purchased through Google, you must use a web browser, same with books, movies, and apps, all in the web browser. Apple has iTunes on Mac or PC, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, Microsoft has the Zune client, Xbox 360, Windows Phone and soon Windows 8. Google has Chrome and Chrome OS to back up Android handsets. Yes there is Google TV and Android Tablets, but neither has seen commercial success comparable to Android on phones.

There in lies the problem. Everyone understands why having Google services on their phone is a viable option, what they don't understand is why their PC or TV or tablet should. Especially when Apple and Microsoft make much better competing products. Consumers still like having a physical copy of their media on their physical devices that stay at home. That's why iTunes is still the dominant place to get music, that's why people buy movies on DVDs or Blu-Ray still, to own a copy. Even iTunes let you purchase and keep movies, Google only lets you rent and stream. We may be moving to a cloud storage world, where physical files never make it down to our desktop, but we aren't there yet. Always on, always available internet isn't there yet and because of that Google is missing out on the whole ecosystem. Consumers still want to be able to see their files on their computer, to know they have control of them and that in case Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google or whoever they are hosting with screws up, their content is still safe.

Google is clearly a forward looking company, but the world hasn't caught up with their vision yet. With the way things are going, I don't think the world will be ready for a cloud only option within the next 10 years. Data speeds are still too slow, 4G LTE still has a small worldwide footprint and data plans are still too restrictive to be pushing around the content that Google wants to from their cloud to your device. For the foreseeable future, local storage still wins and Google needs to realize that if they want to keep their mobile advantage they've built with Android.