Five things you may not know about Google Play

Find out what Google Play is, and what you should know about the new service (even if you're not an Android user.)

See what the online Play Store looks like at play.google.com. Screenshot by Sharon Vaknin/CNET

Google, which has been largely criticized for fragmenting its offerings, is taking a step toward unifying its digital media services. Today, Google announced Google Play , a service that combines Google Music, Books, Movies, and Apps into one entertainment hub.

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1. Here's the scoop.
In a nutshell, Google Music, Google eBookstore, and the Android Market were combined to form Google Play. Not only will you purchase music, movies, books, and apps at play.google.com, but those items will also be stored in the cloud. You'll be able to do the same thing on your Android phone or tablet using the various Google Play apps (more on that later).

The two destinations--Web and mobile--stay synced. So, when you purchase an app, movie, song, or book on the Play Web site, that content will become immediately available on your Android phone (and/or tablet). Likewise, if you rent a movie on your Android tablet, it becomes available for viewing on your desktop, too.

Because it's cloud-based, those purchases won't eat up storage on your computer, tablet, or phone.

It's like iTunes-meets-iCloud for the Android folk.

2. It's already available online, on its way to your Android.
The Play Store is already live at play.google.com. You'll see that it's a one-stop shop for all of the aforementioned services. In fact, if you try to go to the Android Store, you'll be redirected to the Play Store.

On your Android device, you'll get four app updates within the next few days:

  • The Android Market will become "Play Store."
  • Google Music will become "Play Music."
  • Google Movies will become "Play Movies."
  • eBookstore will become "Play Books."

If you don't want to wait for Google to push the updates to you, you can install them manually right away.

3. Can I upload my own movies and music?
Google Music, which allows you to store up to 20,000 songs, will remain the same. The only thing that will change is its name, Play Music. Any music you already purchased or uploaded is still available, and you can continue uploading your jams at music.google.com, or on the rebranded Android app, Play Music.

Movies are a different story. Right now, Google does not allow you to upload your own movies for access in the cloud. Its Play Movies app solely functions as a movie rental service.

4. Even non-Android users can use Google Play.
Let's be clear: even though Play is heavily marketed to Android users, any Google user can use the service to take advantage of cloud-based content management. So, you can rent a movie, upload and purchase music, and buy books on one computer, and access it all on any other desktop.

Mum's the word on native iOS support, but stay tuned for any updates.

When you rent a movie on Play Movies, it immediately becomes available on any device. Google

5. Will Google Play's cloud-based nature kill my data plan?
Probably not. Even though all your content is stored in the cloud, any of it is available for offline playback. That includes books, music, and rented movies. Of course, the amount of content you can store offline, or "cache," will be limited to your device's storage capacity.

Tip: To do less harm to your data plan, connect to Wi-Fi before downloading content for offline viewing or playback.

Bonus: Expect heavy Google+ integration.
Continuing its streak of heavily promoting its social network, expect Google+ integration to be everywhere. As Google explains, "You can easily share posts about your favorite books, music, movies, games, or apps to your Circles on Google+, e-mail, or text message in a single click."

This integration, which has been available on Google Music for a while, will be useful for Google+ users, but others might find it annoying.

 

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