Google Play celebrates first birthday with a week of deals

It’s hard to believe that less than a year ago we were still retraining ourselves to type play.google.com into our browsers instead of market.android.com. But it was exactly 12 months ago this Wednesday that Google consolidated the Android Market, Google Music, and the search giant’s e-bookstore into one amalgamated entity., and to celebrate the first birthday of the Play Store, Google is doing what it does best: giving away free stuff.

Starting Wednesday, Google will be giving away free content and reduced-priced items on Google Play. At the time of this writing some of the Google Play highlights included a free download of the song Sweet Jane by Velvet Underground and 50 percent off Kung-Fu Panda 2. Morgan Rice’s novel A Quest of Heroes was also free, as was the pilot episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad. You can also get free gaming exclusives such as new characters, in-game purchases, and other content from Disney, Flaregames, and PlayGearz. Overall, the sale is not as exciting as the 25-cent sale Google offered last fall, but it’s a rare Android user who can resist the siren call of the number zero. Google says more content will be added to the Google Play first birthday sale page throughout the week.

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The first year of the Google Play store isn’t all the search giant has to celebrate this week. There are finally more users running versions of Android 4.x (Ice Cream Sandwich and up) than Android 2.3, a.k.a. Gingerbread. Around 45.1 percent of Android users are now using Android 4.x, followed closely by 44.2 percent on various iterations of Gingerbread, according to stats on the Android Developers site.

Ice Cream Sandwich was introduced in fall 2011 and was a major stepping stone for Android since it was the first version of Google’s mobile OS designed for use with both tablets and smartphones. It also offered more advanced touch gestures, improved core apps such as Gmail and Calendar, and a new “running apps” view first seen in Android 3.0, Honeycomb. Ice Cream Sandwich was also viewed by many critics as Android’s “coming of age” where the OS was truly competitive with Apple’s iOS.

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The various versions of Android 4.x now collectively outnumber Android 2.3, a.k.a. Gingerbread.

Despite critical accolades and overall improvements, however, Android 4.0 struggled with adoption as phones continued to roll out loaded with Android 2.3, first introduced in late 2010. Gingerbread’s staying powerhas finally begun to recede, but the downside is the majority of Android 4.x users are running Ice Cream Sandwich. So even though more people are running a modern version of Android, they are missing some of the great advances in Android 4.1, Jelly Bean such as improved touch responsiveness and Google Now, the search giant’s take on a virtual personal assistant.

Nevertheless, Gingerbread was quickly becoming as unshakeable to Google as Windows XP was to Microsoft so a decline in Android 2.3 usage is a good thing for Android. So this week Google can celebrate two steps towards modernity for Android: a one-year old Google Play store and the growing user base on Android 4.x devices.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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