It seems Google is on fire and updating all its major services left and right these last couple of weeks. Now, the honor fell on the Web Play Store, the de facto way of accessing the Play Store on your browser, managing your devices and applications, and shopping around for content. The update focuses a lot on good looks but, as has been the case for the last few updates, removes functionality for no apparent reason, and has some weird decisions made in the functionality area. The updated had been teased, like most of the recent changes in Google’s lineup, at I/O 2013, but only now do we have the chance to really dive deep and see what it means for us. So, let’s take a trip down update lane and see what’s new, shall we?
1. A (Very) Updated Design
The new Play Store comes with a radically different design compared to the old edition. The new design is very reminiscent of the Android app, in fact basically acting like a tablet version, considering it shares a lot of the same visual elements but different organization and functionality. The Cards UI absolutely dominates the interface, and it consolidates the look of the web page with the Android app in a way that generally works and is not intrusive. The Cards UI is very much touch-oriented, relying on the user to swipe the cards away, hold them for re-organizing and other actions such as those, but in this case it’s all working as intended for mouse and keyboard usage. There is also the addition of the new Roboto fonts as the main font for the UI, as has been tradition for Google updates so far in an attempt to uniform the design of their services.
2. Faster and sleeker
One of the major changes about the new Web Play Store is that it simply tries to be as light as possible. Allied with the improved design, the page also makes it a priority to replace all the loaded images with Google’s WebP image compression technology instead of the traditional JPEG/PNG images you’d see throughout the web. This results in smaller file sizes for images, and means that in practice, these should load pretty much instantly and take only a fraction of the space, a very welcomed change for mobile users with a data budget. Unfortunately WebP is not supported on every browser, and notoriously Firefox does not support it at all, so make sure you’re using Chrome or Opera. A few other technical changes in the backend, such as the widespread adoption of AJAX means that the Web Play Store will not need to reload the page every time it makes a change, basically acting like an app and only updating as needed. This results in a much faster experience and a more native feel to the whole thing, emulating the behavior of the Android app on your Desktop.
3. New “My Apps” Page
This is one of the most contested changes, and I have to admit that Google has dropped the ball on this one. The old “My Apps” page is gone, which showed your installed apps per device, and all their permissions and details if you so desired, and the new page is in, with radically different functionality. The main issue is that this page will not simply show you which apps you currently have installed, but instead it will show you every app you have ever installed. Good luck navigating through that mess. Add to this the fact that the page tries to load all your app information at the same time, and what you’re left with is a slow, unusable mess that destroys any purpose you might get out of it. Not cool, and totally undermines any effort made to make the Web Play Store lighter and snappier.
4. Enhanced App Details and Permissions
The new update makes the app details screen much cleaner and informative than before, mirroring the Android UI and feature set almost completely. The icon is bigger and prettier, and the placement of the install button is reminiscent of the Android app. Very nice. Also nice is the pop-up informing you of the app’s permissions and confirming you want to install. There is no other way to check app permissions, which may seem like a drawback but does make some sense from a usability standpoint, as there is no need to clutter the screen with unneeded information until the user is planning on installing the app. The dropdown menu to choose the device in which you want to install is still there, so it’s as easy as ever to check which device you want to send the app to. The way screenshots are handled in the store is also different, now striving to always make it as big as possible and obscuring the rest so you can focus on the images. Unfortunately, keyboard shortcuts were removed from this view, so you have to always use the mouse to rely on navigation which is a pretty bad idea, but hopefully will get fixed back to the old behavior as it updates.
5. Missing Stuff
With the new update, some functionality is missing as has unfortunately been expected of Google with these updates. Gone is the option to uninstall apps off your device from the web. Simply, gone. No workaround, no other section to manage your apps, nothing. The functionality is simply gone, and there is no real way to know if it will return any time soon or at all. You also cannot see what’s installed on a per-device basis anymore. This is yet another of the “My Apps” page faux pas, making navigation much more complicated and impossible to properly sort your apps per device anymore, with no proper workaround. Searching is also now somewhat more complicated, as it apparently limits the number of results it shows you and offers you no way to show more. It’s still possible to search by category though, so you can try that if the new search irks you enough.
And that’s it for the major changes this time around. Quite a radical update, as has been the rule with Google services lately, and unfortunately at the expense of major functionality. It’s nice to see that the products are still being actively worked on and updated, but it’s kind of sad to see features go away and then sitting around hoping a new update restores them. It’s also very unpolished in terms of actual functionality, just trying to use the My Apps page is a joke and you wonder how it made past testing at all. But well, that’s my take on it. What’s yours? Let us know in the comment section below!