If you own an Android device, you're probably wondering what happened to the familiar old Android Market. For most of us, the Market is gone, replaced by the new Google Play app.
Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) has not only rebranded the Market as the Google Play Store, a name that incorporates the Google brand, but also rolled a few other services into it. Google Music on your smartphone or tablet is now known as Google Play Music, the e-book service is Google Play Books, and then there's the newfangled Google Play Movies service. Before you brand this as another attack on Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) , I'll note that Play Movies is more of a pay-per-view service than an all-you-can eat subscription thing. That makes it more of a rival to Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iTunes Movies, Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) Instant Video, and the bucketful of PPV services built on the Rovi (Nasdaq: ROVI ) RoxioNow platform.
What does it mean?
For us developers, it's no big deal and possibly even a boon. We have been assured that nothing has changed except a few URLs, and indeed, my own apps appeared in the Play Store without my lifting a finger. The new app even comes with a snappy logo and this snappy marketing catchphrase: "Get it on Google Play." Google plays well with developers.
For the consumer, this isn't a clear-cut winner of a move. "Play Store" might be a good name for an app store with movies and music baked in, but the term "Play" doesn't exactly apply to books. Why confuse your customers?
Furthermore, there was nothing wrong with the old Market name, which feels natural for any type of content -- apps, movies, games, mail-order popcorn, you name it.
But most of all, Google flubbed yet another easy opportunity to fix what's really wrong with the market. It's still nearly impossible to find exactly what you're looking for, because the store is poorly organized. I find this shocking, considering that Google is perhaps the world's leading authority on organizing information. But apparently, the search-engine team hasn't taught the Android people anything. Navigating the app store should be an easy win for Google, but Apple still dominates in this category.
There's no going back
Google Play is here to stay with or without a better actual marketplace. Big G plans to make it a cross-platform game store as well, bundling not only Android games but also Google Chrome-specific and even generic browser-based games under that name. Expect that offering to come with a heavy dose of Google+ social networking on the side, much like how Facebook games like to poke at your friends in various ways.
It's never a bad idea to get your brand name closer to the consumer, as this name change does. It's also a good idea to offer shop-till-you-drop media options all in one place, and the bundle could even make a winner out of the Google+ service in the long run. All in all, Google make a solid move here.
Will the Play store keep consumers from using independent app markets like the Amazon Appstore for Android? Probably not, but that's hardly the point. If Google wanted to tie Android to its own app store, it'd write that into the licensing terms for the platform, the way Apple does with its own iTunes-based markets.
No, this is a bare-faced branding strategy at play. The Google name will be associated with a well-rounded collection of media and mobile app services. If only Google could put some usability geniuses on its Play team to fix the lack of filtering, sorting, and general organization across these stores, Mountain View could have a real winner on its hands.
Fellow Fool Joe Tenebruso calls Google a Tier 1 company. See why he's investing both his own and The Fool's money in the company this week.