March marked the rollout of the Google Play service, which brings together Google's Apps Marketplace, movie and video offerings, music downloads and e-book lineup. To the casual observer, it seems like a tall order to offer so many services through a single portal. But then again, this is Google we're talking about. If this company doesn't have the talent, know-how, insight and resources to make this work, it would be hard to find any other company that does.

So what should we expect from Google Play? We're itching to find out whether this will be a game changer for the search giant.

What is Google Play?

Google has long been facing criticism about fragmenting its services. While Google has a service or a solution for a lot of things we do online, people have to visit YouTube for videos, Google Docs for documents, the Android Market for apps, etc.

Google Play is an attempt to address this fractured market. It unifies Google's content-related services: Google Music, the Android Market and Google eBookstore. This platform even lets users watch movies. So, whether you're looking to buy books, download music or get new apps for your Android device, visiting play.google.com really simplifies the process.

What can you get from Google Play?

Google play has some cool key features. None of these is groundbreaking in and of itself, but combined they make for a pretty functional package. With Google Play, users can:

  1. Get all content in one place
    Google Play will become the home of close to half a million apps, millions of books and songs, as well as your favorite movies. What's more, Google Play will retain some of the individual features from its previous offerings to make it easier for users to decide what to buy. For instance, if you're looking to buy a book or download a song, you could read an excerpt or listen to a clip to help you make a decision. Google has also made movie trailers available.


  2. Take advantage of the cloud
    Google Play taps into the power of the cloud. What this means is that no matter where users buy that music, video, or book, they can still access it anywhere and on any compatible device. You can use a smartphone to buy a book and read it at home on your laptop. You can buy a video on your desktop computer and watch it while on the way to work. This effectively eliminates the need to install software, or sync files with individual devices. (Learn more about the cloud in Cloud Computing: What It Means for You.)


  3. Social sharing made simple
    Google Play makes it easy for people to share the movies they're watching, music they’re listening to, books they've enjoyed, or even their favorite, most addictive apps. This is done through Google+ or via a text message with a single click. Clearly, this is as good for Google as it is for users.


  4. Discover content via personalized recommendations
    Google Play also has an emphasis on discovering music, movies, books and apps based on current user behavior.

    For example:

    • Google recommends bands and artists based on a user's listening habits
    • Users can search for favorite authors or books
    • Provides info on the apps that are currently being used by Google's own staff, or allows users to search for them or browse by categories

  5. Offline access
    Content can be accessed and enjoyed offline as well. For example, you can pin your favorite music to your device and still be able to access it offline, or you can download the movies you have purchased. Books are available offline as well.

But I don't have an Android device!

It's a common misconception that Google Play is only for Android users. It's not. Anyone who has a Google account can access Google Play, although they will not be able to take advantage of features such as apps and games without an Android device.

Wait … all this sounds familiar …

Yes, it does. Google Play isn't a brand-new idea; Apple provides virtually all the same features through its iTunes and iCloud services. Plus, Google timed its announcement of Google Play to coincide with the eve of Apple’s iPad event, so it's pretty clear that the company expected not just a comparison, but perhaps a little competition as well.

There are, however, a few key differences between Play and Apple's services:

  • Google Play seems to provide a smoother experience for buying media content and browsing than iTunes. You can buy and browse anywhere instead of being limited by a program installed on your desktop or laptop.
  • ITunes still has more selection, but this could change if Google Play gains ground.
  • Pricing is more attractive in Google Play, although not by much.
  • Users can upload their own music on Google Play, while iTunes has its own match service.

The Game Is On

Google Play isn't all fun and games; it's a serious charge at Apple and its very popular - and very profitable - content distribution business. Google Play's integrated platform attempts to be simple and indispensable, and the company has put Play front and center in the Google navigation bar. Now it's up to consumers to decide whether Play is the hottest game in town.