Google play+icloundGoogle today announced a cloud-based mobile device synchronization and storage offering dubbed Google Play aimed at competing directly with Apple’s iCloud offering.

“You can buy a song on your laptop and it’s instantly available on your phone,” says the narrator of a Google Play promotional video. In addition, the narrator notes, users can put a book on their phone and pick it up on their e-reader at the same place where they left off—or start a movie on a small screen and finish it on a flat screen. All this can be done with “no cables, no synching and no storage costs,” the narrator says.

The Android Market app, which enables Android phone and tablet users to purchase apps and games over the mobile web, will be upgraded to a Google Play Store app over “the coming days,” wrote Jamie Rosenberg, director of digital content for Google Play, in a blog post. Similarly, video, book and music apps including Google Music and Google eBookstore, will get new Google Play-capable apps called Google Play Movies, Google Play Books and Google Play Music apps.

The new Google Play capabilities are quite similar to what Apple launched in mid-2011 with iCloud. But there appears to be at least one important difference.

The basic iCloud offering is free, but users pay $25 and up per year for premium options that include more storage and other features. In contrast, I did not see a reference to step-up, for-charge versions of Google Play on a website dedicated to Google Play or in a Q&A section about Google Play on the site.

Perhaps Google has a premium for-charge offering and is simply not talking about it until users sign up and read (or fail to read) the small print. Alternatively a for-charge service may come in a future launch. But I’d be surprised if such an offering were not forthcoming.

Even if Google doesn’t have plans to earn revenues directly from Google Play, the offering has the potential to generate more revenues from the company’s on-line store which has lagged considerably behind Apple’s frontrunner on-line marketplace, as a report published by the Washington Post today noted. Google’s lower market share is due, in part, to getting a later start and in part to having a smaller amount of content, the author observed.

With Google Play, Google hopes more end users will start noticing other types of content and “consider buying an electronic book or album, too,” wrote the Post. “If that happens, Google Inc. believes more digital content providers will want to peddle their wares in its store.”

Interestingly, the Google Play promotional video reminded me a lot of the book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” that inspired the movie “Hugo,” which won big at the Academy awards. I didn’t see the movie, but it appears to have had a similar look and feel. One wonders if the video’s resemblance to the film was intentional.