Google Music launches in US

As expected, Google yesterday stepped up its fight against Apple with the launch of Google Music, its new online music store.

The company’s signed deals with Sony, Universal and EMI, as well as with a number of independent labels – though not, yet, Warner Music – and features more than 13 million tracks from artists ranging from the Rolling Stones to Shakira.

Licensing requirements mean the service is only available in the US, with prices ranging from 69 cents to $1.29 – in other words, at the same prices as iTunes. Tracks are available in MP3 format encoded at 320Kbps.

“You can purchase individual songs or entire albums right from your computer or your Android device and they’ll be added instantly to your Google Music library, and accessible anywhere,” says Andy Rubin, senior vice president for mobile.

“We automatically sync your entire music library — both purchases and uploads — across all your devices so you don’t have to worry about cables, file transfers or running out of storage space. We’ll keep your playlists in tact, too, so your ‘Chill’ playlist is always your ‘Chill’ playlist, whether you’re on your laptop, tablet or phone. You can even select the specific artists, albums and playlists you want to listen to when you’re offline.”

Users can share a free full play of any track on Google+ – something which Gartner analyst Mike McGuire sees as a key differentiator.

“With somewhere north of 40-million users, Google+ with Google Music, users will be able to post songs purchased from Google Music to their Google+ accounts and visitors will be able to listen to the complete song one time and, if they like them, hit the ‘buy’ button and go straight to the store,” he says.  “So… that’s a potentially powerful feature.”

But, he adds: “Enough to siphon off iTunes or Amazon buyers? No, not in the short or medium term.”

Another feature differentiating Google Music from iTunes is the creation of an artist hub interface. This allows budding musicians to create their own little music store, building an artist page, uploading original tracks, setting prices and selling content directly to fans.

“But unless and until Google Music’s team decides to invest time in curating that collection of unsigned or independent artists – providing reviews, putting these new, independent/unsigned artists in context with the larger, more established artists or genres – then those artists aren’t going to have much more than having cheap shelf space in a very big store,” warns McGuire.