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Google rolls out Google Music to compete with iTunes, Amazon

by Phil Hornshaw

Google Music is out of beta and ready for prime time.

Part cloud-based streaming service, part music store, part indie music discovery hub, Google’s fully realized Music service has a lot to live up to. During the announcement event in Los Angeles Wednesday, it seemed the company hoped to combat industry leaders and their years-long head start in the space with a single word: free.

Already, users have been able to tap into the Google Music Beta for free, although it required an invitation to use. That service allowed users the ability to upload music they already owned to Google’s cloud, then stream it to any of a number of devices either through mobile apps or web browsers, including the browser on Apple’s iOS-based mobile devices, the iPhone and iPad. Google offered free space for up to 20,000 songs to be uploaded, and you could download them again to any device you chose.

In opening up the full Google Music service, Google is maintaining that free streaming service up to 20,000 tracks. It also is continuing to support the whole “free” idea by dishing out free tracks to users, something it was doing during the Music Beta to help people find new music. That practice will continue for all users of the service, making even more tracks available for free, along with other exclusive items like never-before-released live recordings from The Rolling Stones and Coldplay.

The social side of music

But it seems the biggest element Google wants to push is Google Music’s integration with Google+, which allows users to share recommendations with their friends through the social network. When you share a song or album through Google+ with your various circles, everyone in that circle who receives the recommendation also gets a free play of what you recommended. You can actually play the whole track or an entire album that a friend said you’d like from start to finish, for free.

Google is eight years behind Apple’s iTunes music store, the industry leader in downloadable music right now. It’s also at a significant disadvantage against Amazon, another contender in online downloads. Google has courted a lot of exclusive and free stuff in order to break into the highly saturated market with its own music store. Those things will help – as will the “available to anyone for free” nature of the Google Music streaming service. Both Amazon and Apple have already set prices of about $25 per year for their streaming services.

Up against a strong rival

But can Google really beat back iTunes, or even Amazon? It might not be likely that the service will eclipse either anytime soon, but a few of Google Music’s features seem like they could help it become a force in the industry. The free offerings of the service are a big boon, of course, but so is the fact that Google Music seems poised to work on just about any device, including a host of mobile ones. Customers who buy from Apple are saddled with iTunes, which isn’t available on Android devices. Meanwhile, as Google reports, there have been 200 million Android devices activated worldwide. That’s a lot of customers who might like Apple’s software but already have different hardware, either for tablets or smartphones, who can’t access Apple’s system.

Meanwhile, Google offers a widely free alternative, with the benefits of the ability to share music and a lot of options for additional music discovery. It’s device-agnostic, offering a whole lot of versatility through both apps and the web that both Apple and Amazon can’t match.

Will that be enough to cancel out a foundation built over the last eight years, or an online retail empire? If anybody can do it, it’s Google, but only time will tell if Google Music can become the new iTunes, or if it’ll end up being the new Google Wave.