Google has been stepping up its game around content discovery and distribution for some time. The Android Market is gone, replaced with Google Play. The latest round of announcements from Google's I/O developer conference make it clear that the search giant's content store is central to its plan for mobile domination.
Almost every announcement at the Google I/O keynote yesterday (except Google co-founder Sergey Brin's skydiving stunt promoting his pet project, Google Glass) tied directly to Google Play. Android Jelly Bean makes it easier for developers to upload apps to the store and for consumers to download app updates from the store. The Nexus 7 Android tablet serves as a portal to it. The Nexus Q is all about media in the home, media drawn from it.
One of the greatest things about the mobile revolution is that it has revolutionized the discovery and distribution of content, starting with music. The new content model was proven early in the 2000s with Apple’s runaway iTunes success and, later, Amazon’s robust digital sales of Kindle books. Apple’s iPod and Amazon’s Kindle were the precursors to today’s smartphones and tablets. What we are seeing now is the same model that worked for Apple and Amazon applied to mobile touchscreen computing.
Google is late to the party. That does not mean it cannot succeed. The company realized in 2011 that its fragmented approach (Google Music, Google Books, Android Market and so on) was too disjointed to compete with incumbents in the digital content space. So Google consolidated its content services into a single repository, providing one destination that its marketing team could promote on a unified front.
If you doubt the importance of Google Play to Google, take a look at the two devices the company announced yesterday. While the Nexus 7 tablet is a far superior device to the Amazon Kindle Fire, its user interface is greatly informed by the Fire and Google's desire to place Play front and center.
Look at the two tablets side by side and the similarities are obvious.
This doesn't look like a coincidence. Amazon has done well sending consumers to its digital content through the Fire, and the user interface has been a factor in that success. Google is not opposed to copying a design that works, especially after Amazon used Android to build the Fire and completely shut the Android Market (as it was known at the time of the Fire’s launch) out of the device.
Tech publication AllThingsD noted in an interview with Android’s head Andy Rubin that the Google executive thought the lackluster sales of Android tablets in the last year or so had a lot to do with the paltry content ecosystem.
Then there is the Nexus Q. Since being announced at the I/O keynote, people have been calling it an inflated version of the Apple TV with AirPlay. This is not far from the truth. Until now, third-party applications (or a Google TV) were needed to get music and movies from Play to a television over a wireless connection. The Nexus Q is part of Google’s plan to take over the living room, and at its heart it is an Android device tied to Play.
There is irony here, of course. Google is a giant company with huge resources. It is battling anybody and everybody in the technology industry, and its primary weapons are search, Android and cloud computing. The evolution of Google’s Play strategy now puts content on the frontline. Yet Google has also placed itself in a position to disrupt other billion-dollar companies’ revenue streams.
Google wants Android to be everywhere. In your pocket on smartphones. In your briefcase or handbag with tablets. In your living room with the Nexus Q. Yet great technology matters little if there is not much you can do with it. Apple and Amazon proved that, indeed, content is still king. For Google, that means it is time to Play.