The new version of the Android Market promised by Google earlier this month has begun rolling out to Android 2.2+ devices in the wild. The first sightings of the updated mobile application were made by members of the XDA-Developers forum, who have already extracted the mobile application and made it available to others who just can't wait for the download.

In addition to a refreshed user interface, U.S. users will also be able to rent thousands of movies from their device and purchase e-books. These two moves in particular make Android a more competitive option to the Apple iPhone than it had been previously.

Google announced the forthcoming update to the Android Market in mid-July, noting that movie prices will begin at $1.99. However, unlike on Apple's iTunes, there is no option to purchase movies, only rent them. Until now, movie rentals were available from the Web version of the Android Market, following Google's announcement of the new streaming service at its I/O Conference in May.

Movies on Mobile!

The addition of mobile movie rentals is probably the most notable change for the Android Market, as Android-based devices have been lacking in this department for many months. Third-party applications like mSpot helped to fill the void for some, but it was not until the launch of Hulu and Netflix on Android that users finally had access to vast media catalogs that their iPhone-toting counterparts had through both the iPhone versions of those apps, as well as iTunes.

But even at launch, the Netflix and Hulu catalogs weren't available to all Android device owners. Netflix, for example, is struggling to deal with the large and varied install base of Android hardware, and is painstakingly certifying devices one-by-one to meet the demands of studios who require that copyright protection technology is implemented on all streams. Hulu is in the exact same boat.

For these reasons, it's especially important that Google itself get involved in providing content options to a wider range of its Android users. Although the change won't be available to those on older Android devices, Android 2.2 and up is supported. This addresses the majority of the current market, according to Google's statistics. Only 21.1% of the Android install base is running Android 2.1 or lower.

It's also worth noting the addition of the mobile e-book store is arriving in this update, too. As with movie rentals, all book purchases will be linked to a user's Android account, and made available across all their devices, including phones, tablets and computers. And as with app purchases, all content downloads and video rentals can be added to a user's account without them having to manually sync their device with a computer over a USB cable.

New User Interface Mimics Some iTunes Features

To highlight the new features, the mobile Market has an updated user interface, which showcases the books and movie categories directly from the homescreen. Elsewhere, sections like "Editor's Choice" and "Staff Choices" go even further to mimic the iTunes experience of a curated collection of applications and recommendations. But there is not actually curation in terms of the apps accepted into the marketplace - all apps are immediately published upon developer submission.

The iTunes-like similarities don't end there, however.  Apps are now also easier to purchase - just one tap on the button displaying the app's price and a second tap to confirm the purchase.

For those Android users out there who can't stand the wait, and who know how to manage the installation of off-Market APK files, the Phandroid blog is hosting the link to the updated Market app. There are also instructions provided that will enable you to return to the old Market, if things go awry.