Google announced its music store, Google Music, in November 2011. It is similar to the iTunes store, except it also allows you to stream your purchased music online and even upload your own music to stream as well (like Amazon Cloud Player). At the time I wasn’t interested because the pricing was similar to the iTunes Store and I always have all of my music with me on my phone so I didn’t need streaming. Why hop into another ecosystem when the one that I have works fine. This week,. Google launched Play, a rebranded version of Google Music that also wraps in the Android Market, their book store, and their movies store (similar to the way that iTunes sells music, movies, books, and apps). As a promotion, Google has been offering significant discounts on selected items every day for seven days since Tuesday. Things like 49 cent apps, and 25 cent books, movies, and albums. The free albums intrigued me, so I decided to take a peek.
The store itself is straightforward. It’s clean and open, a bit less cluttered than the iTunes store. Purchasing music is easy – simply log in with your Google account and pay with Google Wallet. We already had wallet setup for a few previous transactions (our oil company uses it) so it only took me a couple of minutes to purchase my first album: Now That’s What I Call Music! 41. I can’t believe I was in middle school when the first Now! album came out. It was easy to purchase and instantly available since it could be streamed. Streaming is nice, but I don’t want to go to a web browser to listen to my music. I want it on my Macs, my iPhone, my iPad. I don’t want to depend on an internet connection or a crappy web app. I want to use native software to play back my music. Good thing Google Play lets you download your music as MP3 files. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to download an entire album (I thought I had to download them individually until I figured out how to multi-select), but once they were downloaded they went into iTunes just fine.
My initial plan was to buy as many of the 25 cent albums as I could, download them to my Mac, and then abandon Google Play until they had another enticing sale. But while I was at work today, I found a reason to use it: my wife. Sally doesn’t bring an iPod to work. She has one, but doesn’t bring it because it’s just another thing to lose. But she has head phones, she has a web browser, and she can get to Google Play. I suggested she log in today to listen to some of the music that I had bought on sale. After a few minutes, she IM’d me, “Wow, why doesn’t iTunes do this!”. I was taken back for a minute and then I thought “Why don’t they?”. Well they do, kind of. It’s called iTunes Match, but it costs $25 a year, and while it gives you access on any device, you have to have iTunes and you have to wait for it to download a copy locally.
After hearing how excited Sally was about streaming, I started thinking about uploading my own music. I downloaded Google’s Music Manager tool. It asked for my Google Account, asked me where I wanted my music to upload from (iTunes), and started the upload. It has currently uploaded 95 of about 4,000 songs. It will take anything that isn’t DRM’d. About 1,300 of my songs have iTunes DRM on them, so they won’t be uploaded, bringing my total to around 2,700. The process will take all night (or longer) but when it is done, Sally will have access to all of my music online. I will too. While it won’t be the primary way that I listen to music, it will be convenient if I want to listen to music at a friend’s house or on a machine that doesn’t have iTunes. No software to install, no files to copy. The Music Manager will even monitor my library and upload anything that I add to iTunes over time.
I have to say that so far I’m impressed with Google Play, for music at least. It certainly won’t take me away from iTunes and I don’t think it will ever be a major player in the music store business, but it is a nice addition to my music listening habits. I’m still probably going to ditch the store part of it after the promos are done. But Google will have achieved what it wanted – it would have pulled me in. And that’s OK.