Google's giving its Play Store some serious upgrades

As of today, Google’s trying to make it much, much easier to rely on its Play Store for apps and to spend money there.

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What is Google Play? It’s where you buy movies, music, books, TV shows, and magazines to look at on your Android devices (and, sometimes, your browser). It’s also where you get new Android apps and updates. Unlike Apple, Google keeps everything in one “store,” even some Android devices themselves. As of today, Google’s trying to make it much, much easier to rely on that store for apps and spend money there.

Google's Play Store, now with automatic updates and gift cards

The big but unannounced (as of yet) news: Android apps now use “Smart App Updates,” as detailed by Android Police. That means that when an app maker issues an update, the only data that gets pushed to the user is the code that’s actually changed, the “delta.” Two weeks ago, an update to the Instagram Android app would require another download of the entire 13 MB app. Today, as Android Police points out, the most recent Instagram update pushes just 3 MB of that 13 MB to your phone.

That makes a difference, and improves over Apple’s App Store, in a few ways. For one thing, Android devices can choose to automatically allow updates to take place (holding off, however, on updates that request new permissions). Which is handy, except that your phone can suddenly be asked to download a series of substantial files, over a cellular network, and that causes both network lag for other uses and some serious battery drain. With just the app changes flying over the wire, now it actually makes sense to turn on automatic app updates, and to never worry about what’s waiting on you in the Play Store.

The other quiet changes in the Play Store are visible in some code segments, and are probably coming soon. The Play Store will soon sell $10 and $25 gift cards in retail locations, and Play Store users can now save items to their wishlist. They’re basic, incremental changes to the Store, sure. But putting gift cards in public signals that Google believes its brand is strong enough that people recognize it, and understand its appeal. “It’s John’s birthday! John has that little Google tablet. I will let John buy some movies and music for that thing.” Maybe it doesn’t actually run like that, but Google probably hopes so.

The Google store is, in short, looking pretty nice. Now Google just has the persistent job of lining the shelves with more and better brands of entertainment and apps.

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