The Playground Is Not Open

For all the anxious Nexus fans who’ve endured the nail-biting wait for Google’s latest flagship device, today must be an exciting day. They can finally satisfy the urge to give Google their money in exchange for the awesomeness of the Nexus 4. While I’m definitely not the type of gadget freak who stands in line overnight to buy a phone, I must confess that I’ve never wanted a gadget as much as I want Google’s Nexus 4 right now.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to join in the excitement, because I can’t buy it. Not because I can’t afford it, but because according to Google, devices on Google Play are not yet available in my country. And it’s not just devices. The Google Play content/devices ecosystem  is closed off to most of the world, with the exception of a few countries in North America, Europe and Asia.

If you aren’t located in any of those countries, you might have thought that the games and apps are all that there is to the Google Play. Not so, as it turns out. Using some sort of geographic feature restriction, Google has made it so that most people have access to only about a fifth of the actual content available. In addition to apps and games, there’s movies and TV, music, books and magazines. You just can’t see them. Okay, you can see them if you peer through the window, but that’s it. Until such a time as Google deems fit, the playground is not really open, you’re stuck on the outside looking in.

Why they aren’t available in the first place is a troublesome question. I’ve scoured the web looking for definitive answers, but have come up mostly flat so far. I’m thus forced to resort to educated conjecture.

On content side, I suspect Google must have their hands full trying to broker all kinds of international licensing agreements with content creators/owners. From what we know of Spotify’s experience with such, it must be really hard work. The fact that even the few countries with enhanced Google Play access have it in varying degrees is an indicator of how content licenses work/don’t work across various geographic regions —

Google Books are available in Australia, Canada, Spain, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Japan and the United States.

Magazines on Google Play are currently only for sale to users in Australia, Canada and the United States.

Movies and TV are available  to users in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, and Spain. Certain features are restricted to the US.

Google Music is available only in the United States.

On the devices side, a Quora user suggested that Google might not be too eager to get Nexus devices into regions that don’t have full Google Play access. His logic is sound. Like Amazon, Google doesn’t make money on their hardware, but hopes to profit by initiating users into an ecosystem where they can maintain the lead in search, sell advertising, and monetise content. It wouldn’t make sense to send devices manufactured at cost to places where they wouldn’t make a lot of money. Concerns about their ability to satisfy what has proved to be overwhelming demand for Nexus devices might also be a reason to limit availability. And that doesn’t even take the shipping and fulfillment headaches that necessarily come with international orders  into account.

Devices on Google Play are currently available only in Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, UK, and US.

But that’s not all. If you plan on leaving any of these countries for a place where the Google Play service is limited, you’d better take delivery of your device or make sure your content is offline before you do. If not, your Google Play stuff will become unavailable for as long as you’re outside of the supported geographies. From the comments on this Hacker News thread, you can buy a Google phone in San Francisco and not even be able to look up your order the next week when you are in India.

Compared to Apple for instance, I’m somewhat disappointed in Google. Despite being notoriously aloof where emerging markets are concerned, Apple maintains an online presence in most countries and has begun to enter into partnerships with local retail players and offers official support and extended warranties via authorised resellers. I can pick up any Apple device on a whim at nearly any gadget store in Ikeja. No problems whatsoever with iTunes, it just works. In fairness, Google’s content ecosystem hasn’t been around for as long as Apple’s or Amazon’s, but I find it distressing nonetheless.

Fortunately, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. If I really, really want a Nexus 4, I could always import one. I could ask a friend or relative located in a supported region to buy and ship to me. No friends or relatives abroad? Well, there’s services like Truebranches, Orderbay and Bringitbay that can help. Basically, they are international procurement services that help Nigerians shop abroad. Of course both options are more expensive, mostly due to shipping costs, but hey, an option is an option.

Despite the clamour from Google fans worldwide, the only evidence that Google acknowledges the situation are found deep in support documentation and in the error pages that show up when you try to access the restricted content. The company likes to say the playground is open — a disingenuous statement where most of the world is concerned. However, there is nothing to be done but wait and hope that it won’t be long before the rest of us can join the cool kids in Google’s playground.

[padlock image via Flickr/Marcus Schopke, photoshopped by me]



  • Reply November 13, 2012


    Depressing news for us Google fans in Nigeria.

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    Oh gawd. Bringitbay is uglaaay

  • Reply November 13, 2012


    Very depressing. Google isn’t truly as open as they say. I’ve faulted them many times before. And this just confirms it! That’s why I’ve always preferred Apple. And maybe Samsung.

  • Reply November 16, 2012


    I am beyond shocked at this article. For a tech mag, this is pretty poor. Anyone who uses Android knows you can download .apk apps online, add it to your phone and run it (by enabling run any app).
    You can buy an Android phone at the computer village. Nexus is going to come there too.
    It’s all about demand and supply. If there is a demand for Nexus, there would be an enterprising trader ready to sell

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