Google Launches Music Service to Rival iTunes [Video]

Google has turned on the music at its new online store, aiming to wrest the lead from Apple and Amazon in audio entertainment distribution despite the absence of a major record label.

The 220 million Android devices worldwide just got a little more musical now because Google Inc. announced the official launch of its new Google Music service Wednesday, Nov. 16, almost a decade after Apple revolutionized the music space with iTunes.

The world’s biggest search engine unveiled the service in Los Angeles after negotiating deals with a string of the world’s major music labels. Users will be able to buy songs on Android Market, the company’s online store that already sells movies, books and apps.

“During the beta, we distributed more than 100 million free songs to your cloud libraries,” said Jamie Rosenberg, director of digital content for Android, at the launch event in Los Angeles. “Today, our music beta becomes a full end-to-end service called Google Music.”

The free Google Music service  – which is now open only in the U.S. – lets you upload up to 20,000 songs, share them and playlists with your friends, and easily discover new tunes you might like. If you’ve got one of those million Android phones, you’ll be able listen to your songs on the go, wherever you are, without first copying the song files onto your phone, thanks to the cloud storage.

Larry Page, Google’s chief executive and co-founder, has been driving Google into markets that have long been dominated by rivals Facebook and Apple since he took the helm of the company in April. The company will be hoping that its service can attract users by integrating it with Google+, the social networking site it launched earlier this year as a rival to Facebook.

A screenshot of the website for Music Beta by Google, the company's 'music locker' service. Photo: Google

Google has negotiated U.S. deals with three of the four major music companies: Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group; Sony Corp’s Sony Music Entertainment; and EMI.

It has also signed deals with the increasingly influential independent label group Merlin and London-based Beggar’s Banquet label group, home to the year’s biggest selling artist, Adele.

To help jump-start the new music store, Google said it will offer one free song for consumers to download every day, while some of the 13 million songs will cost between $0.69 and $1.29 per track.

Google will also allow consumers to share purchased songs with friends on the Google+ social network. The feature will give users of Google+ a “free, full-play” of songs purchased by their friends.

“Recommendations from friends are the single most important way that people discover music and we think that this feature has the potential to really transform purchasing behavior,” said Zahavah Levine, Google’s director of content partnerships for Android, at Wednesday’s event.

Despite the cash pile that Google is sitting on, analysts cautioned that the company faces an uphill struggle in wrestling away market share from Apple. Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder, helped revamp the music industry almost a decade ago with the launch of iTunes.

“Google can’t just meet the bar set by Apple and Amazon,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner, a technology research firm. “They’re going to need to raise the bar and come up with some sort of differentiation, ” he said.

Earlier this year Apple introduced a cloud computing service, which allows iTunes users to store their music on the web and download to any device they choose. Google said that users will be able to store up to 20,000 songs and, unlike Apple’s service which costs $25, it’s free.

“Other cloud music services think you have to pay to listen to music you already own,” said Jamie Rosenberg, head of digital content at Android. “We don’t.”

Even though Google faces a battle to secure a share of the market, analysts said that the offering could strengthen its hand in the much bigger battle for mobile users.

The search engine’s Android software, the backbone of phones made by manufacturers such as Samsung, had a 53pc share of the smartphone market last quarter compared with 15pc for Apple.

Shares of Google, which finished Wednesday’s regular session at $611.47, were up 72 cents in after-hours trading. [Official Google Blog via Reuters]

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