Google and Apple have stepped up their corporate battle with the launch this week of music services for their smartphone platforms.
Android handset users in the US will now be able to get access to Google Music, where the search engine company has signed up the main music labels except, so far, Warner Music.
The service is not available outside the US because Google has not completed negotiations with record labels to allow it to sell songs elsewhere.
The Google Music offering comes with exclusive content from the Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Busta Rhymes, Shakira, Pearl Jam and the Dave Matthews Band.
Songs are available in MP3 format encoded at 320Kbps. Song prices range from 69c to 99c and $1.29, the same as on Apple’s iTunes.
The absence of Warner Music means Google Music will lack some famous names such as Led Zeppelin and Prince which are available on rival stores such as Apple’s iTunes.
“They’ve got to get that [music] catalog filled pretty quickly,” said Mike McGuire, an analyst at industry research firm Gartner. “It’s a launch, but it’s kind of like a work-in-progress.”
Analysts say selling online music is unlikely to provide much of a lift to Google’s revenue. But they say Google needs to be in the market to ensure that its Android-based mobile efforts can match offerings from competitors.
Android is the world’s No. 1 smartphone operating system, powering about 200m devices worldwide. But without a music service, Android-based smartphones and tablets may not be as attractive to consumers seeking a product that offers a seamless media experience.
Apple and more recently Amazon, which has launched its Kindle Fire tablet and has a music purchase service, pose the biggest challenge there.
In a blogpost on the launch, Google said that its online music store “offers more than 13m tracks” from Universal, Sony Music and EMI as well as a thousand independent labels. “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,” it said.
Meanwhile, Apple earlier this week launched its iTunes Match service, also US-only due to licensing restrictions imposed by the record companies.
iTunes Match allows any user of an iOS device – such as an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch – to download a copy of any of the songs they already own in their music collection on a “registered” computer to one of those devices.
While Google offers a form of that service through Google Music (in the US only), the Apple service does not require people to upload their songs directly; the iTunes Match system notes what songs exist on the computer and finds a match from the iTunes Music Store.
The service costs $25 per year, leading Jamie Rosenberg, Google’s director of digital content for Android, to take a dig at it: “Other cloud music services think you have to pay to listen to music you already own. We don’t,” he said.
Google offers free cloud storage for up to 20,000 songs, though customers have to physically upload them.
Mark Piibe, EMI’s executive vice president of global business development, said Google’s plan to bring legitimately sold music to people in new ways can only be good for the market as a whole.
Companies like Google and Apple need a way to keep users locked in to their respective mobile services, said BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis. “Everyone is using music and media as a jail. Ultimately, this stuff is going to be stored in the cloud and it becomes harder and harder to switch systems,” he said.
By linking music purchases to an account on an Apple or Google device, the companies create a barrier for users to shift to another device – although both companies allow users to download songs to their own computers, which can then be uploaded or linked to in the other’s service.
In the US, customers without credit cards using T-Mobile’s network will be able to buy songs and have the price added to their mobile phone bill.
In an added extra, Google aims to make it feasible for artists to distribute their own work on Google Music: “Any artist who has all the necessary rights can distribute his or her own music on our platform, and use the artist hub interface to build an artist page, upload original tracks, set prices and sell content directly to fans – essentially becoming the manager of their own far-reaching music store.”
Google Music will work on Android devices running version 2.2 or above. To help jump-start the new music store, Google said it will offer one free song for consumers to download every day.
Google is also seeking to boost its Google+ social network by offering US users the ability to share songs directly through the network to other people on the system – rather as Facebook has done with the music-streaming system Spotify: people can listen once to a song for free.
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