There is a version of your life, offered by Google, in which all your friends and household members have Android phones, many have Android tablets, and all of them buy their movies, music, and reading from the Play Store. Your lazy evenings, parties, and beach excursions are all very media-rich, DJ-ed by everybody at once, and every moment is instantly shared in this version.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same vision Apple has for its customers—just change the names of the devices and software. The two tech giants are now battling for your total device gadget allegiance. It's the most recent skirmish in The Great Tech War Of 2012, which side will you choose?
Google announced at its I/O conference Wednesday that its Play Store is adding a lot of new content. It picked up magazines from Condé Nast, Hearst, and other publishers, some with special features, and you can only view them on Android devices. You can now buy movies instead of just renting them, and buy TV shows, too—but you can only watch those on an Android device, particularly a Nexus 7 tablet or a Nexus Q in your living room (or a browser with a pretty great web connection). When Google Glass arrives, you’ll be uploading and sharing your life through Google's servers. Its store, its devices, and your Google web accounts are all part of one piece.
Apple's iTunes Store has been growing since 2003, offers 28 million songs, videos, and apps. The iTunes Store had sold 16 billion songs as of October 2011, brought in $1.4 billion in just the first quarter of 2011, and is the most popular music vendor in the world. Google doesn't offer (sorry) apples-to-apples numbers on its Play Store, stating only that, including its 600,000 Android apps, the Play Store has served up 20 billion downloads. Still, Apple is likely to take notice. It may have been a coincidence, but the same day that Google announced its Play updates a smattering of sites including Bloomberg posted the news that a massive overhaul of iTunes is likely to be introduced by the end of this year.
I've spent some time in the Play Store, and do a good deal of comparison shopping. It's not iTunes, and it's not even Amazon when it comes to video, but its music and book selections are, more or less, on-par. Amazon, too, has its music, video, and, of course, reading offerings, but remains a fairly platform-independent vendor, minus its preference for its own Kindle Fire tablet.
What if you’re not quite ready to buy everything from one source? What if you’re wondering whether you can still watch You’ve Got Mail in two years, if you switch the phone you bought it on? Here's how it breaks down.
Music: Music is where you can actually shop around and worry less about formats and allegiances. iTunes, the Play Store, and Amazon’s MP3 store all allow you to download unrestricted, usually high-quality MP3s of the music you buy from them, and each of their cloud services allows you to upload that music to their servers for remote streaming from anywhere. But if you're trying to stream from an Apple TV or a Nexus Q, you're going to want an iPhone/iPad or Android device, respectively, to control the experience.
TV and Movies: If you buy a TV show or movie from iTunes, you have to watch it on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV. If you buy a video from Google's Play Store, it can be watched in a browser, but since your boss doesn't love that idea, you'll want an Android phone or tablet, or Google's streaming Nexus Q. Hollywood hasn't come as far as the music industry in trusting any tech company from selling unprotected movies, let alone two. So what are your options if you don't want to be locked in? At the moment, the only legal way through is buying Blu-Rays or DVDs with a "digital copy" included. The other-other way is to get MP4-formatted files for your video and play it on whatever device will allow it: by syncing it to an Apple device through iTunes and then streaming it to an Apple TV, or (preferred by your author), grabbing the Roku model with the USB port on the side and making use of the wide variety of disc-ripping software.
Books and Magazines: If you buy a book in iBooks, it's meant for reading only on your Apple device. If you buy a book from Google, it's a bit more transportable to other mediums, including iBooks. Magazines on both Google and Apple stands are locked into their respective stores.
There's a war out there to get you to buy everything, virtually, from one store or another. You don't have to choose a side, but if you don't, you're the one who has to carry your own backpack of goods around.
[Photo Illustration: Joel Arbaje]