Google set the internet ablaze yet again with its announcement that, starting today, Google Music would be available for anyone in the U.S. free of charge.
That’s right, free.
During the summer, Google Music’s private, invite-only beta was stated to be a premium service. Yes, other services already do this, but they also offer much more than Google Music. Like many Google products on launch day, Music doesn’t exactly impress with major features. Having Google Music as a subscription-based service like many others out there would likely have killed Music before it even began.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. Google Music is great for storing your music (up to 20,000 songs to be precise) on any internet-capable device simply because you can access it anywhere. Have a Google+ account? Great! Do your circles have friends, or really just anything? Perfect. You can share your music with them, absolutely free. Obviously, they can’t take the music for themselves, but being able to just play shared music anywhere that can access Google+ was a nice touch. Similarly to Google+ (and GMail), logging in to Google Music logs you in everywhere else Google until you log out. It’s a nice feature if you want to be on GMail and Google+ and everything else Google all at once, but frankly isn’t necessary.
You are still limited to whatever songs you have in Google Music and whatever songs your friends are currently sharing with you. Also, followers (that is, people who added you to their circles but you have yet to return the favor) can only listen to the first 90 seconds of your shared songs. This 90 second preview is what users can expect to hear when previewing songs in the Android Market. The Market will reportedly have access to millions of songs, all of which are purchasable.
If you are grumbling about Google Music being little more than a Google-branded iTunes, well, you would have a point. Google Music really is just another way to store and purchase music on your computer, with no major differences from the competition (except the whole Google+ bit and it’s freakin’ free). Think of it this way, though: how often does iTunes’ music capabilities actually change? Google has a tendency to continually update their applications so users can always expect something new down the road. And, unlike iTunes, Google Music is much simpler to use. If you want to play music, you can without having to go through the hassle of all the other stuff going on in iTunes.
Don’t count Google Music out yet, though. I would say to give it a few months for improvements to take hold. If the service is still as plain as it is now, well consider it to go the way of Wave. Otherwise, I’d say it has a shot of being a nice competitor with Spotify and Rdio. And besides, it’s FREE.