Print 30 comment(s) - last by troysavary.. on May 12 at 6:15 PM

Google Music Beta has just went live. It offers users free storage of up to 20,000 songs, playable from any computer or Android device.

The new service is accessible from any Android smart phone.
Service won't directly compete with Apple's offerings, but may threaten them via Android tie-in or piracy

Many have tried and failed.  Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iTunes, which recently celebrated its tenth birthday remains the most powerful force in the digital music business, having stomped out some would-be rivals and held others -- like Inc. (AMZN) and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (WMT) -- off.

But Apple may finally have met its match -- music beta by Google (better known as "Google Music").

I. A True Competitor?

Perhaps no market player has figured out how to beat Apple quite as well as Google Inc. (GOOG).  The younger firm has left its Cupertino foe far behind in the smart phone market, succeeding where others like Palm and Microsoft failed.

In the tablet sector, Android appears the only true challenger, at present, to Apple's dominance.

Many had long believed that Google would jump at the opportunity to throw down its gauntlet and challenge Apple's thriving iTunes music business.  But even as Google diversified its content delivery, buying YouTube and launching special music video channels, a discrete music delivery service remained unrealized.

But sometimes an idea is too attractive to forever go unfulfilled, and Google has at last announced a music service.

II. Something Old, Something New

Google's music beta is here, announced by Google at its annual I/O Conference for developers (similar to Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference).  But the service isn't quite what some had imagined.

Thus far Google hasn't presented the service as a direct competitor to iTunes.  However, it can be viewed as such in some ways (more on this later).

Instead, what Google is offering is essentially cloud-based music storage, as some predicted.

Under its free beta program, users will get to upload 20,000 songs.  Those songs can be remotely listened to on any computer and Android mobile device.  

To get access to the service you'll have to visit the Google Music homepage and apply for an invite.  Google hasn't revealed how it will determine who gets one or how many people will get one, but anyone with a registered Google services account can apply.

The service comes with a slick feature set.  On Honeycomb tablets you can navigate using an interface resembling Apple's popular cover-flow.  And play lists you create automatically sync to your account, allowing you to use them from anywhere.  You will even be able to play songs offline, as the computer client stores local copies of the most recently played songs.

For Macs and Windows computers, the software client is dubbed "Music Manager".  It allows you easy uploads to your cloud collection.  On your Android phone, no app client has been announced yet, but you can access your collection by logging into the Google Music web site.  A dedicated app will likely land soon as well.

III. Lots of Potential, Lots of Questions

Apple recently purchased the domain iCloud for a tidy $4.5M USD and is rumored to be preparing a music locker of its own.  But for now Google has beaten Apple to the punch.

It's hard to argue the appeal of Google Music.  It's difficult to imagine a music enthusiast in their right mind not wanting to partake in Google's free beta trial.

But the question becomes where the service goes from here.  Thus far Google has been quiet about whether the released service will require a subscription fee, and if so, how much that fee will be.  It's hard to imagine that hosting hundreds of thousands of customers, each with up to 20,000 music files -- even low-quality MP3s -- is fiscally feasible for Google.  And the term "free beta" seemingly implies that it's a limited time offer.

Aside from what subscription fees might be, another question will be whether Google will actually start selling tracks on its clients, like Apple does.  For now Google has mentioned nothing of such plans, painting the service as a complement to music sellers like Apple and Amazon.  It writes:

You can upload music files from any folder or add your iTunes® library and all of your playlists. And when you add new music to your computer, it can be automatically added to your music collection online.

Whether or not it decides to directly compete with Apple, the service likely will be a blow to Apple for a couple of reasons.  First, it allows users to transfer their tracks to a supposedly solid third party client and no longer be tied down by iTunes.  Second, it gives Android devices another unique edge over Apple's iPhone -- which currently has no access to Google Music.  And last, but not least, it appears to offers equal service to users who store pirated copies of songs, rather than legitimately purchased copies from Apple or other sources.

That last point leads to some other interesting questions, with regard to the service details.  Thus far Google has not mentioned any sort of copy protection or content monitoring system.  At this point its possible Google will allow pirated tracks (which in many cases are identical bitwise to unprotected, legitimately purchased tracks) to be uploaded to its cloud.

But doing so could lead to some massive lawsuits down the road for Google.  Given Google's YouTube clashes with the media industry, it should be interesting to see how its approach to copyright enforcement plays out and what the industry's reaction is.  Equally important will be how the U.S., other governments, and their respective court systems feel about the legality of the new service.

Clearly there's a lot of unknowns, but from the information Google has shared, Google Music has the potential to be an amazing, and perhaps unmatched service, giving users access to most or all of their music library anywhere in their world -- even from their mobile phone.

For all the questions, Google has answered one thing -- it's serious about music.

In related news, Google announced details today about Android "Ice Cream Sandwich" 3.5 at the I/O Conference.

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Shows the power of marketing
By Da W on 5/10/2011 1:43:41 PM , Rating: 4
This product is inferior in every aspect to the combination of a zunepass and a windows phone. There's nothing this Google cloud service can do that zunepass can't. But with zune you can stream to an Xbox and actually BUY or RENT music you don't already own. Yet everybody dismiss Microsoft's product and Google might have a shot.

RE: Shows the power of marketing
By Red Storm on 5/10/2011 1:58:18 PM , Rating: 5
I don't have a Windows phone or an Xbox, what good is Zune pass to me?

RE: Shows the power of marketing
By Smilin on 5/10/2011 3:33:49 PM , Rating: 3
You have a computer?

Listen to your music on that and take your 10 free credits a month and put em on your iPod, or put them up in a free skydrive.

RE: Shows the power of marketing
By SublimeSimplicity on 5/10/2011 2:00:47 PM , Rating: 5
There's nothing this Google cloud service can do that zunepass can't.

How about be accessible on an android phone... you know, a smartphone people actually own/use.

RE: Shows the power of marketing
By Da W on 5/10/2011 3:44:35 PM , Rating: 1
I said zunepass and windows phone combo, as opposed to a google account and android phone combo.

But your comment proves my point.

RE: Shows the power of marketing
By theapparition on 5/11/2011 12:14:18 PM , Rating: 2
Difference here is that you can access the Google service through an Android phone, Winmo7 phone, iPhone, or even Blackberry.

Although I will agree that Zunepass is the best music delivery system out there right now, but MS needs to open it up and get off of the "Plays-for-sure" DRM.

RE: Shows the power of marketing
By Alexvrb on 5/11/2011 10:48:39 PM , Rating: 2
Accessing via a browser and eating up precious bandwidth to steam music to a phone is not my preferred mode of access. Even if you have an Android phone and they offer a more convenient dedicated app in the near future, the second point still stands. Why bother with this?

RE: Shows the power of marketing
By InfinityzeN on 5/10/2011 2:15:33 PM , Rating: 3
Zune Pass if far and away the best music service out today. Just as the Zune HD was by far the best player of its day. The problem is that Microsoft seems to suck at marketing anything with the word "Zune" in its name.

RE: Shows the power of marketing
By DNAgent on 5/10/2011 3:37:25 PM , Rating: 2
I'm pretty sure anyone would suck at marketing something called a "Zune." Product naming fail :-/

RE: Shows the power of marketing
By acer905 on 5/10/2011 4:49:07 PM , Rating: 2
Ahh, because the name "iPod" makes oh so much sense...

RE: Shows the power of marketing
By Smilin on 5/11/2011 3:03:37 PM , Rating: 2


RE: Shows the power of marketing
By hyvonen on 5/10/2011 7:33:00 PM , Rating: 2
This product is inferior in every aspect to the combination of a zunepass and a windows phone.

Yeah, except that your option comes with a windows phone, which negates everything.

Cloud music storage really that viable?
By cochy on 5/10/2011 1:35:51 PM , Rating: 4
In the days of ever diminishing bandwidth caps how viable is it to stream all your music over mobile broadband. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea but it just seems like ISPs such as ATT and companies such as Google and Amazon are fighting a cold war in terms of content delivery and bandwidth delivery.

Sadly the consumers are stuck in the middle.

Personally here in Canada my cap is 500MB per month on 3G. How much music can I listen to while on the go? Not a lot, so this service and other similar ones are not viable for me.

RE: Cloud music storage really that viable?
By Red Storm on 5/10/2011 1:56:34 PM , Rating: 2
500MB is awfully low. I know on Verizon I am "unlimited" with a true cap of around 5GB per month. Since I currently only use 1-1.5GB, I figure I have plenty of headroom for music streaming. There will also be an option for offline play, though I don't know the details.

RE: Cloud music storage really that viable?
By omnicronx on 5/10/2011 2:28:26 PM , Rating: 3
Data caps in Canada are terrible.

The average plan size is 500MB per month, with most viable plans maxing out at 2GB per month. (2GB data can push you into the $70-90 a month territory depending on the voice plan)

Thank god I'm grandfathered with Unlimited data.. Pretty much the only good thing the iPhone has ever done for me (upon release other carriers advertised unlimited data to combat the iPhone)

By Solandri on 5/10/2011 3:56:34 PM , Rating: 3
Cell phone plans in Canada are terrible, not just data caps. While I was working there for a couple years, it actually turned out to be cheaper for me to pay $3/mo to add the Canada roaming option to my U.S. phone and pay 20 cents/min, instead of getting a Canadian cell phone.

By rlandess on 5/10/2011 10:07:45 PM , Rating: 1
False. Unlimited data existed before the iPhone. In fact the world existed before the iPhone. If we can remember way back you could get a unlimited data plan 10 years ago with Cingular for your Trio, a smartphone that existed before the iPhone. Honestly though, unlimited data didn't mean much back then.

Amazon's store rules them all
By steven975 on 5/10/2011 2:23:47 PM , Rating: 3
Amazon was always a better place to get music than iTunes. I really don't see how iTunes is going to top it.

Even though they've mostly ditched DRM, AAC isn't nearly as ubiquitous as MP3 as so many devices don't support it.

Also, no bloatware needs to be installed. The prices are also generally cheaper. It also doesn't just randomly decide to hiccup and delete your library, either.

While AAC may be technically superior to MP3, it's not really all that significant...they're all lossy.

I've gone back to buying used CDs off Amazon...they're dirt cheap! And you can sell them when you're finished with the 3-minutes it takes to "enjoy" them

RE: Amazon's store rules them all
By crimson117 on 5/10/2011 4:42:41 PM , Rating: 3
How is that any better than just copying a friend's CD or downloading mp3's from some unlicensed website?

I'm not sure keeping MP3 copies of CD's that you've since sold falls under fair use...

RE: Amazon's store rules them all
By acer905 on 5/10/2011 4:53:13 PM , Rating: 2
Wait... you mean there's more to the cost of the cd than the plastic and metal? How strange... I figured you were just buying plastic that happened to come with music attached to it.


RE: Amazon's store rules them all
By hyvonen on 5/10/2011 7:35:22 PM , Rating: 2
I've gone back to buying CD's from Amazon, but no - I don't sell them after ripping, because that wouldn't be within the spirit of the law in any sense of the word.

Moral compass is a tricky thing.

Better service for free
By netmasterjohn on 5/10/2011 2:50:39 PM , Rating: 2
You guys should check out Tonido... it transforms your own computer into your own cloud and you can access ALL your files from anywhere (computer, laptop & all phones - android, windows, blackberry etc...) and it's 100% free.

RE: Better service for free
By Red Storm on 5/10/2011 3:33:44 PM , Rating: 2
There are plenty of free services like the one you mention. The whole point of this is that Google is the one providing storage, so you don't have to keep your computer on at home.

By mfed3 on 5/10/2011 3:31:29 PM , Rating: 4
Why the f**k does an article about Google music have the word Apple 20 times in it and talk about how this product doest match a product apple MIGHT come out with at a future date. Oh wait...Jason Mick wrote it. FIRED.

Check it out, it's Garth!
By Integral9 on 5/11/2011 9:46:44 AM , Rating: 3
Google got Garth from Wayne's World to be their spokes person!

Amazon already does this
By Sxotty on 5/10/2011 1:57:55 PM , Rating: 2
I am curious why this is hailed without reference to other services like amazon's that already do this? It just seems strange to ignore the competitive landscape.

Again, no, thanks
By bug77 on 5/10/2011 6:08:49 PM , Rating: 2
My music stays with me.

Not available outside the US
By BZDTemp on 5/11/2011 4:31:48 AM , Rating: 2
Small detail but it makes all the difference.

Nothing major I do fine with my Slimserver installation on the home server. Without much effort one can put up a private streaming music server that works at home and on the internet.

Dogs dinner
By Tony Swash on 5/11/2011 1:25:33 PM , Rating: 2
Sounds like this things is a dogs dinner

What will be announced at WWDC next month will blow this away.

By troysavary on 5/12/2011 6:15:03 PM , Rating: 2
So, instead of merely plugging a flash card into my phone with my songs on it, I must stream songs I already have stored elsewhere each time I want to hear them? In that case, why not just use a streaming service like Grooveshark?

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