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Google Music: What it is and what it means

The internet and music industry waited with baited breath for the highly anticipated Google Music to finally make its first appearance. With the massive amount of clout that Google has online, people have wondered how Google Music might change the digital landscape and perhaps offer some sort of competition to Apple’s dominion over online music.

After much talk and speculation, Google finally launched Google Music beta by exclusive invite to certain users in the US. So what exactly is Google music?

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In short Google Music is a cloud based music streaming service. It allows users to upload up to 20 000 songs to the cloud, which will then be accessible for streaming from wherever the user chooses, from any online computer or Android device. Android devices will also be able to cache a certain amount of data, which will allow the user to listen to certain songs offline. This can either be the most recent ones listened to, or simply a selection of favourites.

Music Beta by Google, as it is officially called at the moment, keeps true to Google’s aim of using the cloud to give users a seamlessly integrated experience across various platforms and devices, much like its Chrome notebooks. The library and playlists that are created will be identical no matter how you access them.

So that’s the Google pitch, but there’s more to the story to that. Google has launched Music Beta without label co-operation or support. It seems that the record labels haven’t been all too happy with Google’s approach to online music. Negotiations between the labels and Google broke down, but, like Amazon’s cloud player, Google decided to launch without their approval. As with Amazon, however, there are consequences to this. Even though it is an invite only beta, people have been quick to criticise the Google offering.

Because of the lack of label support, Google cannot use a public library of music for users to choose from, users must upload their own files. Once uploaded, Music Beta users cannot download any of their tracks. This means that your music library can in no way be used as a backup for your personal library. Most importantly, there is no music store attached to Music Beta.

Separate to the label issue, it initially seemed that Music Beta would only have mobile accessibility from Android devices, leaving iOS users out of the picture. It has come out though that, although the slick app is only for Andriod version 2.2 or higher, one can still access the service through Safari on your iOS devices. So no need for Apple users to worry.

So how has the industry responded to Music Beta? Well, after releasing without label support, many record execs are wondering how Google plans to protect Music Beta from harbouring pirated music. Music Beta retains the right to remove any unlicensed songs on the service, but it is unclear how they plan to monitor and enforce this.

At the moment is seems that Music Beta has been overshadowed by Amazon’s Cloud Drive and Cloud Player, which is currently a superior offering. Nevertheless Music Beta is still very much in beta. It’s still free. It’s still U.S. invite only. We have to wait and see what Google’s plans are. It may be that Music is positioning itself as a simple music offering to complement their Chrome O.S. or it may be that Google Music is positioning itself to launch into something far bigger.

It may depend on what Apple’s cloud offering turns out to be. Thus far, Google Music’s release has not been the bombshell that was expected. Only time will tell, however, what effect it may have on the wider digital music landscape. Spotify, as an example, may struggle to find itself relevant to a US. market that can freely access such a large library of music. Locally we will have to wait a while before we even have access to Music Beta.

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