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Google Music: an iTunes killer?
Google officially launched its new Google Music service at a star-studded LA event this week. The search giant is looking to take on the likes of Apple's iTunes, Amazon's MP3 Store, Spotify, Myspace, 7digital and many others in the flourishing industry of digital music downloads and streaming.
So what IS Google Music? And what might it offer music fans that the current crop of services do not? Is it an iTunes killer? Or, as some are already arguing - is it not even meant to be such a thing?
There was a good reason why the likes of Busta Rhymes and other triple-A rappers, rockers and pop stars graced the Google Music launch this week. Google is taking its move into the digital music industry very seriously - offering users access to over 13 million tracks from over 1,000 music labels. Major labels Universal, EMI and Sony Music are already signed up, with only Warner Music still to join the party.
John Sciulli;Getty Images Entertainment;Getty Images
Accessing, discovering and sharing your music anywhere and everywhere seems to be the key driver for companies wishing to gain that all-important competitive edge in the music industry these days. That's why Google Music will allow any Android mobile or tablet device to buy, store or stream any of these digital music files.
Google's music gurus have cherry-picked lots of the best features and business plans from other music services, enabling their users to share tunes with their mates via Google Plus, upload 20,000 tracks to the cloud via Music Manager and get free daily previews of music from new artists. Major exclusives from established artists are also being promised.
Additionally, Google is offering musicians something it is calling an Artist Hub, to help and encourage bands and performers to sell their tunes direct, with a one-off $25 (£16) registration fee.
The only slightly depressing news for Brits at this point is that a UK launch date is still unconfirmed - but we hope to bring you further news on that from Google UK in the very near future.
"Google's long overdue entry in the market is welcome as the company has a special market role, in helping combat piracy through the power to control search listings, Adwords advertising and dodgy MP3 apps on the Android market, and also in showing consumers there is choice beyond iTunes," said Ben Drury, founder and chief exec of 7digital.
New digital music services are entering (and leaving!) the market on a regular basis - with both BlackBerry and Nokia recently launching their own new services for mobile music fans.
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Right now, the real question is whether Google Music can take on the established and combined might of market leaders such as Apple and Spotify.
"It's going to take time to chip away at the groundwork that Apple has put in place with iTunes," says Music Week's Tom Pakinkis. "While creative features, pricing and partnerships will all play a role, the smartphone battle can't be underestimated.
"Android now has a significantly greater presence than iOS [iPhone variations] in terms of the number of devices on the street. With many turning to digital music downloads when they're on the move, that will be Google's greatest platform."
Five competing digital music services
Apple has pretty much owned the flourishing market for digital music downloads over the past decade, with its user-friendly iTunes software (first launched in 2003) and iPod (and, more recently, iPhone and iPad) hardware serving the needs of mainstream music fans and major labels well.
Uppers - ease-of-use, massive catalogue of over 18 million songs, new iCloud service allows remote storage of (and access to) your tunes.
Downers - restrictive digital rights management (DRM).
Myspace shot to fame back in the mid-noughties through helping to push new artists and bands such as Arctic Monkeys to global megastardom. Then, as Facebook's dominance grew, Myspace's star seemed to fade. The site has recently been relaunched, following a $35 buyout from Specific Media and high-profile investor Justin Timberlake.
Uppers - Myspace had 33.1 million unique visitors in the US in August 2011, so is still a force to be reckoned with.
Downers - Those 'difficult' past few years has seen the value of the Myspace brand drop considerably amongst music fans and industry execs alike.
"A new world of free music is just a click away," is the tantalising promise of Spotify, the music streaming service that has become the darling of the digital music industry over the past couple of years, since it first arrived on the scene in the UK in February 2009.
Uppers - free ad-supported service, great mobile app, over 15 million songs, easy to share tunes via Facebook.
Downers - some musicians and independent labels are losing faith with the company. Most recently, it lost the support of 200 small labels this month.
7digital is a UK-based digital music download service that offers a superb selection of tunes and movies to Brits. Founded in 2004 by the outspoken Ben Drury, the company recently signed a major deal to run and manage all of HMV's online and digital operations - dragging the well-loved music retailer into the 21st century!
Uppers - DRM-free music, over 11 million high-quality 320kbps MP3s in the catalogue, favoured by hardcore music fans.
Downers - nowhere near as user-friendly as iTunes.
Amazon MP3 Store
Amazon's MP3 store was one of the first major digital music download shops to sell tunes without DRM, which gave it a real edge over Apple's iTunes when Amazon first launched the service in the US back in 2007. In keeping with trends throughout the rest of the industry, Amazon also launched the Amazon Cloud Player in 2011.
Uppers - a well-known brand and hence very easy to use for many music fans who have been buying books and other bits and bobs from Amazon for years. A huge catalogue of over 18 million tunes.
Downers - paltry 30-second previews of tunes not long enough for many, some audiophiles complain about the quality of the 256 kbps VBR MP3 format.