Let’s start with the name. It’s not called Google Music, like we all thought it would be. It’s called Music Beta by Google, which throws up the question, will this ever come out of beta? Knowing Google’s track record, I wouldn’t count on it.
The decision to call this service Music Beta by Google gives me the impression that, at least at the sub-conscience level, Google doesn’t have an awful lot of faith in the product yet. Maybe this is because Google didn’t get the label’s consent for the service or maybe because they realise that their service is already competing with Amazon, and will eventually be competing with the company from Cupertino.
Living in the UK, I haven’t had a chance to test this, so any judgement I pass can’t be considered final and/or damning. So lets reserve judgement for now and think about the particulars of the service. The concept is that users can upload up to 20,000 songs to Google’s servers and then stream them to their Android handset (or ChromeBook) wherever they are, all through 3G or WiFi. It’s a lovely idea, although I think there’s a few little niggles that Google have slightly overlooked.
First, “users can upload” their songs. I have to upload my tracks? All 20,000 of them? Well that’s not a very pleasurable experience is it? Let alone quick. Second, there is no way to buy music through the service. I know that’s not a huge issue for some people (you know who you are), but to those of the law-abiding persuasion it is a problem, a rather large one… One that doesn’t exist in other competing services.
So is Music Beta going to be a complete failure? Well, no, it won’t be. For Android users this will be a lovely addition to their platform, but a selling point, it is not. Each of the other large mobile platforms either already have or will soon have a similar service; WP7 has Zune and soon enough Apple will go live with their cloud iTunes arrangement. So really, you’re not going to be choosing Google’s mobile platform for an exclusive music service, because it’s nowhere near exclusive, Amazon already has a music service on that platform anyway.
While it won’t be a selling point for Android, will it be a better service than its competitors? Well, no, it won’t be. I hate to jump on the “Apple will do it better” bandwagon but, Apple will do it better. The way I see it, iTunes will scan your library (like it does with Genius), then all the tracks you have stored on your Home Share will then be available to stream on your iOS device, there will be no uploading involved because Apple already has these tracks on file on their servers. This I feel will be a much more complete service, literally putting your iTunes in the cloud.
Let’s talk about pricing. Music Beta by Google is free, for now. At the keynote it was suggested that its gratuitous nature would not last forever. Now I see flaws with the service in it’s free state, if it were to be made a paid service without any large refinements I would call shenanigans and damn it to the web-grave. Apple’s service however I suspect to be a MobileMe buy in feature, that is, you will need a MobileMe subscription to get the full benefits of the service. I think this will fly as Apple is and always has been a premium company, offering products and services at a premium price, it’s how they roll. People invested in the Apple ecosystem will lump the price and be happy that they did, and Apple knows this.
My view is that the Music Beta service will be a well-loved feature for Android users. They will all tell us how fantastic it is and how silly we are that we don’t have an Android device. We will nod and say “I’m sure it is”, and that will be the end of it.