The Play Store is mired in doubt. We never seem to know when products will be available, and whether or not we’ll be able to get them when they are. We don’t have a lot of trust in them right now, as time after time launches have become debacles, and customers are left less than satisfied.
This is a supply chain issue, perhaps due to a perception issue. Google may not understand just how fervent their fanbase is, as was made evident by their estimation of Nexus 4 sales. As consumers, all we know is that we want good devices, and we don’t want to wait for them.
Simple laws of supply and demand dictate that if I can’t get a product I want from one supplier, I will take my demand elsewhere. We saw this with the Nexus 4. Consumers were turning to other devices instead of purchasing a Nexus device from the Play Store. While a Nexus device is subsidized, and doesn’t represent a large portion of profit, the Play Store lacking in supply has more than just financial implications.
Aside from the immediate issue of lost income this represents, it also leaves consumers with a negative experience. If purchasing a device was an issue once, it will most certainly be again… so far as we’re concerned. The experience matters as much as the results do for many of us.
Another factor contributing to our dissatisfaction with the Play Store is that there has been no solid approach. With the Nexus 7, we had pre-orders. The Nexus 4 was a free-for-all. Sometimes things ship in 3 days, sometimes it’s a week or more. Out of stock items have no date for availability. Often times, there is no choice for shipping method.
If you go to a store like Best Buy, and something is out of stock, they can tell you just when it’s coming in again, and even let you place the item on hold. Even Amazon has ‘availability estimates’ to let you know when an item will be back in stock, and both offer choices in shipping. The Play Store often simply lists things as “Out of Stock”, with no timetable for return.
In asking the question of whether or not the Play Store should carry additional devices, the question of Google’s responsibility to do so surfaces. The Play Store offers quite a bit, and only a very small percentage of that content is the actual design or product of Google. Like apps, the Play Store could easily carry additional Android devices, and may reap unrecognized rewards.
HTC was recently branded a second-tier manufacturer by some suppliers, a label many disagree with. That’s troubling because, due to no direct action on their part, HTC may have difficulties getting a great device to consumers. All carriers have agreed to carry the device, but if the supply chain fails them, it could set a precedent for the future.
Let’s consider that, in the future, HTC or another manufacturer may not have the ability to involve themselves in the market. Whether it be supply chain issues, or a lack of presence by a newer company, they simply can’t get their devices to us. As mobile device hardware begins to plateau, more parity is needed in the market. The Play Store has an opportunity to level a skewed Android playing field.
We can’t necessarily fault carriers for failing to support a ZTE device, as they have a set of interests the Play Store doesn’t. They have “security concerns” and bloatware to saddle a device with, in addition to agreeing to support the device. Seems simple enough, but that is an undertaking for them… and when you do that for each phone you offer, it becomes cumbersome to have diversity. Multiple devices from a single manufacturer make that job easier, so it makes sense for a carrier to have 5 Samsung or Motorola devices rather than one or two from a multitude of manufacturers.
In this scenario, we must arrive to the conclusion that a device and an app share a lot of attributes in terms of commerce. The Play Store, in turn, would be little more than a marketplace. The Play Store doesn’t have to be any more than this, and we’d be remiss to consider it any other way.
As we stand, the Play Store only carries Nexus devices, and Chrome OS devices. In these situations, those are devices Google has a hand in, whether it be an in-house OS or hardware design. They support those devices, as they should, but that doesn’t need to extend beyond their devices. If a Huawei or Sony is selling a device via the Play Store, the responsibility should be with the manufacturer to support (and supply) it properly.
The Play Store takes a very minimal approach to commerce… one that has failed them as well as us to an extent. The current re-organization within Google management will hopefully bring healing to this black eye. Simplicity has its virtue, but a step too far is an unwelcome annoyance.
Paid devices and apps
If devices start taking on the character of a paid app, it begins to make more sense for the Play Store to carry them. With paid apps, there is a return window in which to get a refund. Google doesn’t support apps, unless they’re official “Google, Inc.” apps… and we don’t expect them to. There is no reason the same attitude can’t be carried over to devices, both by us and Google.
Out of stock apps
We think of apps not having a shelf life, or never running out of “stock”. If we examine the situation regarding Falcon Pro, the twitter app, that isn’t necessarily true. They ran into a situation where Twitter refused to give them more user tokens, essentially limiting how many could use the app. They found a workaround, but it was an interesting scenario in which an app actually had limited “stock.”
Like hardware, an app clearly has the potential to “run out”. Falcon Pro was at the mercy of twitter in that regard, but it does present an interesting scenario. The Play Store had no hand in this “supply chain issue” Falcon Pro was having, but they did provide the app. The app was still available for download during the issues the developer was having with Twitter, even though it would have done us no good. In this situation, the Play Store was little more than the marketplace, absolving themselves of responsibility or culpability… and we expected no more or less from them.
Variety can’t hurt, and there is no reason the Play Store shouldn’t carry additional devices. Selling unlocked, non-Nexus Android devices could be beneficial, both monetarily and otherwise. If we start considering the Play Store a destination portal for eCommerce, they will have accomplished a major goal of any retailer, and that’s to drive traffic to your site.
An unlocked device asks no dependance from Google, or even that the Play Store support it. There is no carrier to negotiate a contract for, or subsidized deals to concern themselves with. The price is largely set by the manufacturer, so in many regards… the Play Store can still take a minimal, hands-off approach. Stock of a device is also much easier to coordinate than navigating an app having issues with its host service.
I don’t expect Google to support anything they didn’t have a hand in, so buying a device through the Play Store would have the same effect as if I had done the same via Amazon, or the like. The concept of not having great devices readily accessible is much worse than the Play Store not supporting that device. If it’s Android, there is no reason the Play Store shouldn’t offer it. If we can’t get that Nexus device we want, we’re going to get another in its stead… we’d just like the option to do it from the Play Store.