Central to the success of Google's Nexus 7 tablet, the Nexus Q media player and other Android ventures sits Google Play, formerly called Android Market.
With 400,000 Android apps and 20 billion downloads so far, the cloud-based Google Play content service will now allow customers to buy movies and TV episodes, Google said Wednesday. Customers can already purchase books from millions of titles.
Analysts said the success of the Nexus 7 tablet will depend on Google's ability to bring users to its content and apps, through Google Play. The Nexus 7 "is built for Google Play," said Hugo Barra, Google's product management director for Android, during its unveiling at Google I/O. The Nexus Q spherical media hub, also based on Android, will distribute such music and video content around a user's home.
The range of Google Play content and services and YouTube videos "will be the secret to stitching together a rag-tag fleet of Android gadgets into a platform that can compete with Apple for minutes of users' attention," added James McQuivey, another Forrester analyst.
One session at Google I/O on Wednesday was devoted to explaining new tools and marketing strategies to app developers, who are critical to the success of Google Play.
New console for developers
Chris Yerga, Google's engineering director for Google Play, introduced a new developer console, available in limited beta, to help developers build apps for the content service.
One new capability that will come later to the console will allow developers to see how their Android apps are selling across various devices, including Android smartphones from different manufacturers and the Nexus 7 tablet, Google said. Some Android developers have built hundreds or even thousands of Android apps, putting a high demand on such monitoring and management tools.
One feature of the Google Play console allows developers to monitor customer reviews of their apps in graphical form under the mischievous heading of "Count Graphula, the Counter."
Yerga also urged developers to consider ways to build apps for tablets, not just Android phones, to take advantage of a tablet's larger screen and video and graphics abilities.
"A lot of Android tablets will be sold and we just released a killer one," Yerga said, referring to the Nexus 7. "Tablet users don't just want a phone app on a tablet, so think how to optimize apps."
Mint.com, which makes money management apps, found that tablet users spend 25% more time on an app than smartphone users do. Tablet users also engage those apps later in the day, while smartphone users peak in their usage around lunchtime, Yerga said.
"Build immersive tablet-first features and offer new app features not present on the phone, because tablet users are in a mode where they are willing to deeply engage," Yerga suggested to developers.
Yerga also urged developers to market their apps through video by relying on the free resources of YouTube. Using the example of Smule, the maker of Songify, Magic Piano and Ocarina apps for turning a smartphone into a musical instrument, he described the impact of one short YouTube video promotion featuring musician Jimmy Wong.
Customers who acquired Smule apps through a link in the video promotion ended up using the apps more than other users, Yerga said. The reason they used the app more often is because users learned how to use the app by watching the video, he said.
Yerga urged developers to find ways to reach audiences outside of the U.S., by using Google's auto-translation tool to translate apps and app-promotional materials into foreign languages. Foursquare, a location-based social networking Web site and app, found through a user-generated location database that half of its users spoke 12 languages and were located outside of the U.S.
Foreign-based Google Play customers could indeed prove to be essential to the success of many future Google products, including the Nexus 7.
Two-thirds of all purchases in Google Play are from outside the U.S., Yerga said. Google Play also has the highest average revenue per user of any of the app stores, he added, without giving any details. Also, more Android devices are sold outside of the U.S. than inside the U.S.
Analysts said the foreign success of Google Play and Android is probably due in part to the U.S. success of iTunes and the Apple App Store, which had a head start on Android Market and Google Play. "ITunes has such a big lead here [in the U.S.] that it's probable that, competitively, Play does better in other countries," noted Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.
Overall, analysts said Google's new developer console for Google Play and its advice to developers on improving tablet apps should make a difference, even though Google still faces strong competition from Apple and Amazon.
"Trying to make things easier for developers with the new console and encouraging them to build tablet apps makes sense, and those are exactly the things Google should be doing," Gillett said Thursday. "Will developers build the compelling tablet apps, and will there be enough tablet devices in the field to use the apps? So far that's not the case."
Gillett added: "The Nexus 7 is a nice target device for Google Play, and Google is there to brand it and promote it. All of what they're doing sounds good, but will it be enough? There's not enough evidence to say it will be enough."
Gillett admitted that he is a "long-term skeptic of Android success on the tablet." The steps that Google takes to help developers, including offering them free Nexus 7 tablets and Nexus Q devices to try out Android 4.1 won't change the current reality, however.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].
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