Sunday, November 20, 2011

Google Music still US only despite revamp

Google this week revamped its online music portal allowing users to buy and even share music online. Online music access is one area where Google faces significant challenges from already well established players.


Apple and Amazon both provide the facility to buy and download music as well as store it in the cloud. There are also several online portals which provide streaming music such as Pandora, Jango and Spotify.

At present Apple and Amazon may not yet be quaking in their boots. Google has only managed to acquire the blessing from three of the four top record labels, Universal Music Group, EMI, and Sony Music Entertainment, as well as a number of independent bands. It has failed thus far to make a deal with Warner. But Google Music is a serious challenge to both the top two players in a number of respects.

Google Music began life in beta, which was by invite only. Users could upload up to 20,000 songs and listen to them online via any web connected device. Now the company are offering more than 13 million songs ranging from 69 cents up to $1.29 which can be bought through the Android Market.

For emerging artists, Google Music offer some advantages over the services offered by Apple and Amazon. Google Music will feature an Artists Hub, where musicians can upload and sell their material. Artists keep 70% of the revenue and there are no annual upload fees. As part of YouTube's recently announced merchandise store, artists will also be able to sell against their music videos on the Google-owned site.

Google vs Apple

Apple may not be too concerned at this time. Google does not have the entire music catalogue available to offer its potential customers. However, Google does have some advantages over Apple. All purchased songs are DRM free, and currently the storage for Google Music users is free. Apple offers only songs with DRM but it is on storage that Google's rival loses.

Apple have recently launched iTunes Match where users may 'store' music in the cloud and stream it on their computer or phone. The Apple's iCloud service costs $24.99 per year, though there are advantages and disadvantages over Google Music.

With iTunes installed users need not upload anything to the cloud. Instead iTunes determines which songs are available in the iTunes Store and a match is automatically added to iCloud. Since there are more than 20 million songs in the iTunes Store, Apple claims to be able to match most people's music collection. Users may however upload music which iTunes can't match.

Storage space

Such a system is good in itself, and certainly less time consuming than waiting nearly a week for one's entire music collection to upload to Google Music, though it does it in the background and is not a major inconvenience. The price of $25 may not break the bank, but it is one more thing which may dissuade some of taking up the service.

Amazon also offer online music storage in the form of it Amazon Cloud Player. However Amazon only offer 5 Gb for free and around 20 Gb for $20 per year. While Google does not state the actual amount of free storage available, 20,000 files at 5 Mb per song would equate to around 100 Gb.

Advantages Google has over Apple is that artists and companies may set their own prices for music. Google Music users may only play music back from one device at a time, however there is no limit to the number of devices which can access each account. Apple limit the number of devices to 10 for some services.

Purchased music may be shared with others via Google+, an option not available to iTunes' users. Although a shared album or song may only be played once, it is a likely attempt to help promote and market songs to create incentive for others to buy.


For audiophiles there is little difference between the two. Apple offers all music at 256 kbps AAC format, seen by some to be slightly better than MP3 formatting. Google Music purchases are 320 kbps MP3 format, but of course uploaded content is at the same quality of the original.

You can upload MP3, AAC files, ogg, and FLAC encoded songs into your Google Music library. You can't, however, load Digital Rights Management (DRM), AFLAC (Apple Lossless), wac, aiff, or ra files. You can also load Microsoft's WMA files, but only with the Windows version of the Music Manager. FLAC, ogg, and aac files are transcoded into Google Music's default 320Kbps MP3 format. Uploaded content may not be downloaded, though songs may be 'cached' for offline playback.

Songs matched by Apple's cloud service may not be physically downloaded, only streamed, so despite the advantages of all the cloud based services, it is not advisable to ditch your physical copy on the hard drive.

Regional restrictions

The biggest advantage Apple has over Google is on availability. Google Music is currently only available to those in the US, and the company has yet to make clear when others will be allowed to join the party. Amazon too restricts its service to those in the US. While those with an account can upload songs individually to the Amazon Cloud storage service, users cannot stream the file. Clicking on the said file returns the message, "It appears that you are attempting to use Amazon Cloud Player from outside the US. This service is intended for US customers only."

Even those who have successfully circumvented regional restrictions to open a Google Music account, with help of a US based VPN, can only upload and listen to music, which is at least a little better than Amazon. Purchasing music and even getting free songs is, however, virtually impossible outside the US.

Apple still have the monopoly in terms of international accessibility. But it is only a matter of time before Google roles out its service to everyone. [BBCBBC video / CNN / Mashable / CNET / PC Mag]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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