Google on Tuesday announced a sweeping change to its online digital entertainment offerings, combining three distinct services — the Android Market for mobile apps, the Google eBookstore and Google Music — under one new umbrella service: Google Play.
The new service, which went live on the Web on Tuesday, is a cloud-based digital store and library that has invited inevitable comparisons to Apple’s iTunes and iCloud and Amazon’s own, free, cloud-based digital content storage locker and stores.
Google Play, for example will become the default place for Android mobile device users to purchase apps, music and rent movies beginning this week, with a new update rolling out that will change the Android Market icon into a Google Play icon on user devices. Google will also automatically convert all of a user’s previous Google digital content purchases to the new Google Play library (though the old services will be phased out, so there’s no choice but to move to the new Google Play service).
But sources close to Google told TPM that the new Google Play is substantively different from its competitors in key ways, such as that it was built with the cloud in mind from the start, and that it will support competitors’ mobile devices as much as it is able.
Even more intriguingly, our sources close to Google confirmed to TPM that Google Play would soon offer tighter integration with other Google products and services, including YouTube and Google Plus, as well as forthcoming Google hardware, potentially even the home entertainment system and augmented reality glasses that Google is reportedly set to launch later this year.
“There’s lots of rumored stuff out there,” one source close to Google told TPM, “But Google Play will definitely support future Google hardware, such as the Nexus line of phones.”
Regarding social services, Google already offered Google Plus integration through Google Music, its store and cloud-based music locker that launched in November of 2011. Google Music users can share one full listen of any song they’ve purchased to other Google Plus users, for example.
Google Music also links users to artists’ YouTube channels and official videos for selected songs.
On Tuesday, Google also launched a Google Play page on Plus.
“You envision more and more of that will happen,” one source close to Google told TPM.
In addition, Google has previously made clear its intentions to turn YouTube into a broadcast TV competitor, if not replacement, signing deals with major media companies including Disney to produce original shows for the Web and run old made-for-TV reruns for free (plus ads, of course) on YouTube. YouTube in October 20111 announced it would be launching 100 new dedicated original channels from various media companies, including Slate, The Wall Street Journal, The Young Turks and others. Google also has its eye on the increasingly popular Spanish language TV market, inking deals with major networks Telemundo and Univision.
Although Google has made pains to keep YouTube its own distinct brand, separate from the rest of the company, and although Google Play doesn’t feature YouTube by name anywhere on its front page, users do have the option to watch movie rentals purchased on Google Play on YouTube or the Google Play app.
“They’re not merging the brands per se,” one source close to Google said, “But it is all one company, and they’re all on the same page.”
Google is also reportedly attempting to figure out how to allow users of mobile devices other than Android (read: iOS users) to access the new Google Play service.
Google Music’s player functionality has been available as an HTML5 Web app since September 2011, which allows Apple iPhone and iPad users to play Google Music on their Safari Web browser, bypassing Apple’s App Store and iTunes.
Google Music isn’t available in the Apple App Store, probably because it goes against the Apple rule that an app cannot “duplicate existing functionality” found on the iPad or iPhone, which would include iTunes.
Sources close to Google said the company will continue to support the existing HTML5 app, allowing users who purchase music on Google Play to listen to it in the Google Music app on their iOS devices.
Google’s eBookstore, which the company says is the world’s largest, with over 4 million books, is available in the Apple App store, and based on the new Google terms of service referencing Google eBookstore, it looks as though a Google Play Books app will be available in the Apple App Store as well.
As for users of other mobile devices, our sources didn’t have any specific announcements. But it is worth noting that Google Play is right now accessible on any PC using any browser.