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Google Music to rival iTunes, keep users longer in Google-controlled spaces

Google has introduced Google Music, which in a number of ways should have implications beyond just competing with Apple's iTunes.

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Google yesterday officially introduced Google Music, an update to its Music Beta service launched in May and a way, it said, of "discovering, purchasing, sharing and enjoying digital music in new, innovative and personalized ways."

More plainly, it's Google's Android answer to Apple's iTunes.

Users can still upload 20,000 songs — for streaming to a laptop, smartphone or tablet — to Google's cloud for free, and now there's a music store in Android Market to help users grow their collections, either by the song or by the album. Hundreds are free, thousands are for sale, and Google+ users can share one free listen to a song with friends. The tie to Google+ is an important one for both services, as each tries to get its feet under it.

Additionally, putting on a hat it wears to work with Android developers, Google is now offering musicians a way to interface with their audience. For a small one-time fee, artists can build a page where they can upload tracks, set the pricing and sell directly to fans.

T-Mobile, perhaps in a reward for its longtime Android loyalty, has a special tie-in, in that subscribers can have Google Music purchases charged to their bills.

"Google Music, especially in conjunction with the Google+ social network, will lead to users spending more time in a Google-controlled environment," which is critical to Google's mobile strategy, analyst Ken Hyers, with Technology Business Research, told Connected Planet.

The obvious first question is what does this mean for Apple, and the balance of power in the larger mobile ecosystem?

Analyst Roger Kay, with Endpoint Technologies, explains that just as Google has "first-mover" status in the search market — when offered a number of search options, people, basically out of habit, will turn first to Google — "Apple has that in digital music," said Kay. Despite being far from perfect.

"Apple plays so badly with other things," explained Kay. "It's fine while you're using it, of course. It's like Hotel California — it's beautiful and you never want to leave. But when you finally do try to leave, you realize how locked in you are."

This has helped Apple to dominate the music space, and in the time it's taken Google to ready itself for the party, Apple has been joined by Amazon, Spotify (CP: Spotify, with its streaming gigabytes of music, arrives in the U.S.) and its new partner Facebook, among others.

"Google has succeeded in conquering the mobile OS space with Android. But it risks having that victory snatched away as competitors find ways to better monetize the platform," said Hyers. "Namely, the Amazon Cloud Player, along with its music store, is a compelling reason to buy the Kindle Fire, which runs a version of the Android OS over which Google has no control and little direct ability to monetize. Google makes its money off of advertising placement, but that only works if users spend time with apps over which Google has control."

In the way that Google Music enables Google to control the OS and directly monetize content, it enables Google to be more like Apple, said Hyers. "That said, Google Music is no iTunes, and won't represent an appreciable threat to iTunes any time in the near-future, or even in the longer-term."

Pointing to Android's fragmentation criticisms and Google's practice of choosing a new silicon vendor with each new release, "causing a lot of disturbance in the industry," Kay sees Google and its healthy Android developer ecosystem, as a "viable alternative" to Apple, though far from as an unassailable threat.

"Google keeps talking out of both sides of its mouth, which is so confusing," said Kay, explaining that in its Motorola purchase, Google has an opportunity to "really get their fingers in it" and develop a system that can compete soup-to-nuts with Apple — though it's promising that Motorola won't get any special treatment over other device makers.

Speaking of the latter, Hyers suggests they might be a little put out by Google Music's relationship with T-Mobile — which should benefit from the increase in data traffic.

Oddly, Google hasn't yet articulated a mobility strategy around Google Music, in terms of making it a direct feature in Android phones. Rather, it's enabled through a specific carrier, T-Mobile," said Hyers. "I'm really not sure why they would choose to work with a specific carrier, instead of directly with their OEM partners, but I have to assume that this will be a next step. In the meantime, if I were Samsung or HTC, I might be a little miffed."

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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