March 28, 2012 at 10:56 am

Google Leverages Search to Push Play

google nav bar

Google users may have noticed a new addition to the black navigation bar pictured above — you know, the one that was supposed to go away, but instead has become an omnipresent springboard for Google’s growing list of non-search services, seemingly designed to keep you frolicking in Google’s “free-and-open” garden for as long as possible. This latest addition is different; it’s not totally free.

The Google navigation bar now includes the company’s recently-released Play marketplace, combining music, movies, books, apps, and game stores into a single destination (sort of like iTunes). Perhaps most tellingly: It has higher billing than the most popular free-and-unlimited music service in the world: YouTube.

Google Play was launched relatively quietly as a platform-agnostic roll-up of the Android Market, which no longer exists, and redirects to Play. (I for one am not weeping over the loss.) Even so, Play will still offer the most obvious utility to Android users, who can use it to sync content across their mobile devices. Google Play also allows them to store up to 20,000 tracks in the cloud for free, so they’re playable on Android smartphones and even iPhones. Google+ users can share music purchased in the Play market with friends on that social network.

Google’s shift towards overtly peddling multimedia content — as a company that built its empire on free, ad-supported services and still earns the bulk of its revenue from search advertising — is interesting. It feels like a move designed to wrangle in some of the “openness” (read: chaos) there that some have observed in the past.

Of course, we can’t ignore the outcrop of a Google music store as a long-overdue response to what has become a real sore point for Google in the digital music arena. (Fling tanked as an alternative to Airplay while consumers don’t seem to understand DLNA, and Google Music wasn’t the nuke in Apple’s iCloud that Google probably wanted it to be.) Could Google Play be yet another, perhaps better-orchestrated chance to win over Android users who are sentimental for iTunes?

It’s food for thought, at least. Google Play isn’t likely to rock the boat for existing Apple users, but a more centralized entertainment platform may be just the change that half-in, half-out Droid fans have been waiting for.