Google announced its long-awaited cloud music service today at its annual I/O developers' conference in San Francisco. But it's not exactly the service the company had been hoping for.
It's called Music Beta. A promotional video from Google pretty much tells you what it does:
Music Beta acts like a personal storage locker for music — meaning users can upload songs they already have; then stream them anytime through most devices that connect to the Internet. This isn't exactly a new frontier for Google. They've been investing in the data storage business for a long time, from Gmail's Google Docs features to Google Books and YouTube's recently announced movie rental service.
In both of these ways, Music Beta is similar to the Cloud Music service announced earlier this year by Amazon. But Amazon's service is tied to the online retailer's web site, where users can purchase songs and upload them automatically to their lockers. Music Beta does not yet provide an option for purchasing music.
And Music Beta is only available by invitation right now — while it's in, well, beta testing. But Google reportedly wanted to launch the service in conjunction with today's I/O launch of its updated music player app for Android devices.
Both Google and Amazon launched their cloud music services without the blessing of the major record labels or music publishers. And Google is reported to have spent a lot of effort trying to secure their buy-in. According to an article in Billboard today, Google's chief negotiator, Zahavah Levine, blamed the labels for the breakdown in talks:
"We've been in negotiations with the industry for a different set of features, with mixed results," she told Billboard the night before the announcement was made. "[But] a couple of major labels were less focused on innovation and more on demanding unreasonable and unsustainable business terms."
ASCAP's Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Phil Crosland, told NPR in March — when Amazon's cloud service launched — that he was not pleased music publishers had not been consulted:
"Our concern is that it is simply a way to avoid having to pay songwriters and composers and, in our case, music publishers, as well as artists."
So far, the publishers and labels do not seem to have taken legal action against Amazon.
Music Beta's mobile app will be available on any device with a browser or that supports Flash. In its current form, Google's Music Beta provides substantially more free storage space than Amazon's Cloud: about 20,000 songs vs. Amazon's 1000. And users will be able to download and store their songs on a physical device. But Google has not revealed what its service will cost users once it becomes more widely available.