Google's attempt to jazz up its online marketplace by integrating all its digital content onto one platform, now called Google Play, has been described as a mere "rebranding" exercise by analysts. They add it would need a lot more in terms of addressing the "free apps" culture prevalent among consumers and improving discoverability in order for the platform to better compete with Apple's app store.
Google had in March launched its Play platform, which it described as an "integrated destination for apps, books, movies, and music" and is accessible to both Android device owners and any Web user.
"We believe that with a strong brand, compelling offerings, and a seamless purchasing and consumption experience, Google Play will drive more traffic and revenue to the entire ecosystem," stated Kenneth Lui, who helps in the Android developer ecosystem, in a blog post then.
Commenting on this initiative, Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum, pointed out that it was just a rebranding of the former Android Market, and was done to create the impression of a broader content store and get away from the idea that the platform is only for apps.
Jessica Kwee, research analyst at Canalys, agreed. She added that for users in Asia-Pacific, specifically, Google Play continues to be mostly for apps since the majority of the other digital content offerings are yet to be available in the region.
Search, monetization still lacking
However, both analysts noted that having a superficial makeover for the online store will not help the company build on Android's success.
Dawson, for one, said Google will need to do far more to beef up its content offering, which is "way behind what others, especially Apple, are offering". He added that the company has to more effectively tie together its various content offerings, particularly its YouTube movie rental service.
"The irony is that Google already owns one of the most successful online video platforms in YouTube, but it has totally failed to tie it in with its Android platform and the Play marketplace," he stated.
The Ovum analyst also pointed out that the Web giant has a "fundamental" issue it needs to address in terms of helping developers better monetize their apps. The culture it created early on whereby Android apps are free and supported has been assimilated by consumers, and they now expect these apps to remain that way.
This is why the proportion of paid apps and resulting revenue generated is still far smaller on the Play online store than in the Apple App Store, he explained.
"Google needs to make more fundamental changes in the whole culture of Android, encouraging both the creation of really high-quality apps that people will be willing to pay for, and pushing developers toward in-app purchases--which is where an increasing chunk of overall revenues comes from in Apple's App Store," urged Dawson.
Allowing users to find and discover apps more easily is another lack that Google will have to address, Kwee stated. She said the company needs to show that it can be a reliable platform for developers in terms of providing better discoverability tools.
Currently, partners are looking at alternative ways beyond Google Play to meet consumers' needs. Japanese operators, for example, have recognized this need and built their own app stores to bring more locally relevant content to their users, she said.
Content, Portals and Social Garter
Amazon's Android app store is another third-party alternative, noted Dawson, who added that the platform's success is based on the online retailer's successful curation and organization of apps both online and on mobile devices.
"One of the great ironies of Google Play is that search is so terrible…and there's a lot Google can learn from the Amazon approach," he said.
Gavin Tay, research director of content, portals and social at Gartner, added that using advertising revenue as the main barometer for success--something Google has been doing to decide the future of both Android and Chrome--can "get in the way" of delivering the best experience to consumers.
As such, Google will need to tackle these pressing issues to better take advantage of the sheer scale of the Android user base and provide consumers with a much improved online shopping and buying experience, Dawson surmised.