By Mark Long / Mobile Tech Today. Updated June 28, 2012.
Though media reports out of Google's I/O developer conference have buzzed with news of the Nexus 7 tablet, Google Glasses and the next Android OS, industry observers say the company's Google Play store is the centerpiece of its evolving device strategy.
In one way or another, every major I/O 2012 session Wednesday was related to Google Play, formerly known as Android Market. For example, the online store is expanding to include popular magazines such as House Beautiful, Men's Health, Shape and Wired, and users can also purchase movies via Google Play in addition to renting them.
"And we're adding television shows on Google Play -- [including] thousands of episodes of broadcast and cable TV shows," said Andy Rubin, senior vice president of Mobile and Digital Content at Google.
Forrester Research Vice President James McQuivey said Google wanted to create a content platform that tied together all its ragtag content and app experiences into a single customer relationship.
"The power of the platform is the only power that will matter," McQuivey said in a blog post Wednesday. "The newly announced Nexus 7, as a device, is from its inception subservient to the experiences -- some of them truly awesome -- that Google's Play platform can provide through it."
It's All About the Experience
Google also introduced new tools and marketing strategies for Google Play that aim to make the online store a more attractive venue for application developers. Among other things, Google demoed a beta release of a developer console that will help app creators see how their products are performing across multiple device platforms.
McQuivey believes that Google's success or failure in the mobile hardware business -- and the home entertainment space with the Nexus Q streaming media player -- will not depend on flashy devices at attractive price points or connection enhancements.
"The tight integration of content experiences -- music, video, games, and apps -- into the device is the new de facto model for selling consumer electronics of all shapes and sizes," McQuivey said.
"It's Amazon's strategy with the Kindle Fire, and it's actually the same strategy Apple has used to ensure that its iPad is not only popular but essential for many consumers," McQuivey said.
The Danger for Google
In the wake of Google Play's ongoing update, Apple appears poised to launch its own iTunes App Store makeover, according to media reports. Google also must contend with the Facebook App Center, which enables developers of mobile iOS and Android apps to apply for listings.
"Once listed, their apps are discoverable via the App Center web portal or via the Facebook app on mobile devices," noted VisionMobile's new Developer Economics 2012 report.
With respect to the new Nexus 7 tablet, the good news for Google is that more than 50 percent of developers overall are now targeting tablets, according to VisionMobile's new report. "This is a massive increase over last year, when just a third of developers (34.5 percent) reported targeting tablets."
The danger for Google is that all the new hardware and refreshed Android and Chrome operating system software coming down the pike will end up distracting the company "from the very thing it knows it has to do," McQuivey said.
Through Google Play, the company needs to build real customer relationships that inspire people to spend money at the online store "and value the way Amazon customers value Prime and Apple customers value iTunes," McQuivey said.