Google Play? What The Hell Was Wrong With Android Market?

Google often confuses me. The company, with its thousands of genius employees, often makes the most brain-dead decisions. Just earlier today Google rolled out their latest twist on the Android Market — but it’s not called Android Market anymore. Instead of simply redesigning the e-store, Google also re-branded the whole thing to Google Play.

The reasoning is sound: the company wanted to better describe their offerings since it’s not just apps. The Play name is multifaceted, evoking thoughts of playing a game or pressing play on a media file. Cool. But most markets also sell more than one sort of good. The old name worked just as well.

Google has a problem with course changes. They often come suddenly and without much warning. It’s a side effect of Google’s philosophy of launching early and launching often. Google often releases a product and evolves it to match the market’s demand. That works when a product is just coming off the bench, but it’s a little late in the game to switch up one of Android’s major features.

As Chris pointed out today, along with the new name, Google Play also uses a completely new icon (it looks a lot like GoPlay’s, btw). Gone is the shopping bag as a colorful play button takes its place. Look for the update to hit your device within the next couple of days if it hasn’t already.

This re-branding affects other Google apps as well. Google Music is now called Google Play Music. Google Movies is now Google Play Movies. And, much to the amusement of BlackBerry fanboys, Google Book is now called Google Play Books.

Most of Google’s efforts took place on the Android Market website, which as far as I could see was just lacking a competent design. The product didn’t need a complete remodel; Android Market needed a new coat of paint and maybe some new window treatments. Apps were always the primary focus in Android Market. Now they share equal space with music, movies and books. Previously, the other content was buried in hard-to-see tabs, which likely didn’t result in high conversion rates, which likely prompted the new site.

The new branding also frees Google from the stigma that this content was just for Android. Instead of Android Market, it’s now Google Play, subtly signifying this distribution service is available for more than just mobile devices. But why not just call it Google Market? Same general idea with none of the mixed messages that the Google Play name sends.

In fact, the new name offers up a stigma of its own — the word “play” has obvious connotations with, well, games. Time wasters. Follies. Instead of using a catch-all term to signify the sheer variety of things that Google has laid out on a platter for their users, we’re left with a name that’s completely lacking in gravitas. Google Play Store sounds like a nifty place to hang out when you’re six, not a place to download useful apps or insightful books.

Google has a product problem. Sustainable long-term growth requires a steady hand and proper foresight. Even in 2008 it wasn’t unforeseeable that Google’s App Store competitor could eventually serve media as well as apps. If Android Market wasn’t the right branding for the job, then it shouldn’t have been used from the start.

Consumers aren’t dumb. They’ll manage to get their media fix just as they always have. That’s not the point. Google launched the Android Market three and a half years ago and it’s became nearly as ubiquitous as Apple’s App Store in the mobile space. The noun “market” implies a retail storefront where the verb “play” is just a punful play on words. It’s silly.