Google just wrapped up its press event in Los Angeles after officially launching Google Music. The service has now dropped the "beta" tag and thrown the doors open to the entire public -- no invitation is needed. Even more, the virtual music locker will continue to remain free despite earlier reports, and will still allow users to store up to 20,000 songs -- no matter their size -- without forcing users to shell out a yearly fee.
"Other music services think you have to pay to listen to music you already own. We don’t," said Jamie Rosenberg, Google’s director of Android digital content, digging at Apple's iTunes Match service.
Starting now, Google Music users will see a new "Shop" link at the top right-hand corner that leads to the new Music section in the Android Market. There users can purchase individual songs or whole albums directly from the browser without having to download and install a sluggish desktop client. All music purchased in the Android Market is automatically stored in the virtual locker, but Google failed to clarify if these purchases count towards the 20,000 cap, or not.
As previously reported, Google has signed on EMI, Sony Music and Universal Music -- Warner Music was not listed as a Google Music partner. Still, in addition to the "thousands" of enlisted independent labels, music fans now have 8 million songs to purchase and download as 320 kbps MP3s -- up to 13 million songs soon -- that are priced from $0.99 to $1.29 per song. The company has also added a recommendations engine, using friend's selections, to help make music discoverable.
Over on the Android side, Google said the Android Market app will be updated to reflect the new Music section shortly. Device owners will need Android 2.2 "Froyo" at the very least in order to use Google's new service. Unfortunately, the new "headphone" Music app (7.02 MB) doesn't replace the stock "speaker" Music app (236 KB), so many users will either be required to install the additional app in order to download or stream songs to their device, or use the HTML5 version within the phone's browser (which honestly works just as well even if Marcus hates it). [Ed. note: Hate is such a strong word. I just prefer the standalone app that I can see in the notification tray.]
As before, users can upload their own music to the virtual locker, but don't expect Google to "match" your current library by throwing in the cleaner 320 kbps versions. And while music can be accessed and played via the desktop browser, users are still required to download a small desktop application that allows the user to upload their files. Seriously Google, if we can upload videos to YouTube in the browser, why can't we do the same with music?
For those who already used Google Music before it officially opened for business, you already know about all the free music Google serves up each day. The freebies will continue to roll in but via the Android Market instead. Even major acts will now offer some free music and exclusives only found on Google Music including Coldplay, The Rolling Stones (six unreleased live concerts, one of which is now available), Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band and others.
Yes, even Coldplay's new album Mylo Xyloto is up for sale on Google Music (for $4.99!).
As for the rumored "twist," songs or albums bought on Google Music can be shared on Google+. Users can choose specific contacts or specific circles, but either way, contacts can listen to an entire song or an entire album once for free, depending on what users actually share. Each post will provide access to play and purchase the shared content.
For budding new artists, Google Music now provides the Artist Hub, a place for musicians to set up shop and sell their original content. Pages can be created for a one-time fee of $25 USD, and artists will have full control over their content (given they have full ownership of the rights) including pricing, the number of free plays, album details and so on. Artists will retain 70-percent of revenues of sales in the Android Market without any extra fees tacked on.
Rounding out the press event, Google and T-Mobile announced that the carrier's subscribers will be able to charge song purchases directly to their monthly bill. T-Mobile customers will also receive free content from the likes of Drake, Maroon 5 and Busta Rhymes.
Google Music couldn't have arrived at a better time. The company said during the press event that 100 million Android devices had been activated as of May 2011. Now there's more than 200 million activated devices on the market today, devices that will now bring in new revenue to the likes of EMI, Sony Music and Universal Music. Even more, Google is gearing up to launch its next Android build, aka Ice Cream Sandwich, which will better integrate the new service.
Still, has Google Music arrived too late? After all, the market is dominated by iTunes and music subscription services like Rdio and Spotify. "They’re coming into this market rather late in the game, where there are large, established players," Gartner Analyst Ray Valdes told Bloomberg. "You can say it’s a saturated market."
Now Google needs to actually sell video content, and the Android circle will be complete. But that's a topic run for another day...