Google Music: Are They Under-Achieving Again?

Posted by on November 17, 2011 at 8:34 am

Honestly, I think there’s a market for Google Music, I just don’t know what it is. I enjoyed the service when I reviewed it this past summer for what it was: a cloud-based warehouse to stream your music from. But now that Google is really bringing its service to the world after a private beta for the price of free, it leaves me to wonder if they’re bringing their A-game to music or if they’re just wanting a slice of the pie to have their name on it.

Google’s new music endeavor actually consists of two oddly disparate components:

Google Music – This isn’t really any different than any other MP3 player you can download for your phone like Amazon’s player, WinAmp, or what have you. The shiny star here is actually the back end. You install a separate program on your PC to harvest and upload your music to Google’s servers, up to 20,000 songs for free (note: this takes at least two days on a decent broadband connection), and then stream it with an HTML5-based player through a browser or with a mobile app on your choice of smartphone. The original Android app was irritating at times (especially when it came to randomizing music) and crashed often and with today’s big announcement, Google has brought out a newer, more stable release that mimics their new Ice Cream Sandwich motif. Aside from that, there’s really not much more depth to the service, but a major piece it lacked alone it now has with…

Android Market – Okay, so let’s see if this makes any more sense to you than it does for me. So Google makes a standalone Music app in which you can play music you already own, but in order to acquire new music, you have to access the newly unveiled section of the Android Market that deals with music. Yes, you have to use two separate apps to acquire and play your music. Three of the big four labels (minus Warner) and a bunch of indies have signed up for this, so it’s not like it’s at a shortage of content, but the approach here is bizarre at best. I’m sure they’ll tie these together in time, but after such a big announcement, this seems like an awkward way to hop in.

These alone seem awkward, but they’re not the biggest reasons why Google Music seems so underwhelming.

It’s Social, but… It was Spotify’s Facebook connection that liberated me from the Zune Pass after four and a half years; I’d been waiting for a reason to move on and that was it. Google Music ties into Google+ (which, uh…) allowing friends in your circles to listen to a song once, but the lack of Facebook integration, surely out of spite, means there’s very little reason to choose it or anything else.

It’s the new kid. Starting a decade after iTunes and five years after Zune while not having the clout of a new service like Spotify, they seem so far behind everyone else as far as content selection. Then there’s the delivery mechanism.

Do we need another store to buy music? Honestly, the idea of a new storefront to purchase DRM-free music on an individual basis feels five years old just typing it out. I think we’re moving away from building up a catalog of “physical” digital music. Even the streaming portion requires you to own the music in the first place. All of it seems like Google built a service on stolen pages from ancient music service playbooks. Speaking of which…

No subscription? Zune Pass got it right, Spotify and MOG followed up handsomely. Google Music feels incredibly dated in comparison. And finally…

Google’s ubiquity != success. It didn’t work for their social efforts, and despite their huge hand in search and their wonderful Android OS, they’re going to need to try a bit harder than they’re presenting now. Even as Microsoft threw in their hat with all their successes, they just couldn’t beat iTunes, either.

All in all, I just don’t see this ever becoming a big deal. It’s a usable service and has some cool perks, but I can’t see it gaining much traction in this space.

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