The original iPod was first rolled out a decade ago this month, and it utterly transformed the way we consume music. It’s safe to say that digital music is rampantly popular; according to NMM Q2 data, 46% percent of consumers listen on a weekly basis–this number jumps to 94% among consumers that own at least one device connected to the internet. In light of this, the newest question is, what role will the “cloud” play in the next step of digital music?
This past spring, a trio of ultra-visible tech companies launched efforts to cull users on to their digital cloud platforms. Along with Amazon’s cloud player and and Apple’s iCloud (and more importantly, iTunes Match), Google Music promises to harness the power of the “cloud” for digital music. Though the “cloud” term is in fact more marketing buzz than technical innovation, we can excuse it because what it represents for music is actually quite useful. Currently, all three services are still in the early stages, with Google Music still in Beta, Amazon counting down to the Kindle Fire release to supplement their cloud player, and Apple having yet to launch its iCloud service.
Given the relatively close release dates, similar functionality, and technological prominence of the three brands, it will be interesting to see who will come out on top. The massive retail presence behind both Amazon and Apple suggest a much higher stake in succeeding in cloud music than Google. To combat this, Google Music will need to be a dedicated and top-notch experience. Otherwise, the seemingly larger investments by Amazon and Apple will ultimately crowd Google out of the market.
I wanted to take a closer look at Google Music, and my specific focus was a web app that I could use as a de facto substitute for iTunes at work or when traveling away from my desktop PC. When asked to be an iTunes stand in, Google’s Music Manager (MM) is imperfect, but functionally capable.
The first step in adopting Google Music requires integrating your collection in to the service, which is very time consuming as it is EXTREMELY…SLOW. Leaving MM running overnight uploaded just 300-400 songs. Users are allowed an upper limit of 20,000 songs, promising a potential multi-week upload venture for large collections. This can be especially frustrating because the service seemed to be a drag on internet speeds on my entire home network. I recommend sticking to only uploading songs while sleeping.
The MM didn’t seem to have any decipherable logic while importing songs; some artist catalogs were completely uploaded at the beginning, and many others only had a couple songs uploaded as the importer jumped randomly from song to song. The ability to import and create playlists are a nice touch, especially when some of my memorable ones are 5+ years old. The instant mix random playlist is a fun feature to use and mess around with as well.
From a design standpoint, the interface does a decent job of aping iTunes. Users can sort by artist, album, genre, and song, but only sorting by song allows users to view artists in a simple list format – the rest force viewing by album cover. MM also allows the user to “rate” their own music, which I could not find any use for. Without a social aspect (integrating with Google+) or the ability to remove it from the columns, it just stands out as an awkward addition.
As a functional stand-in cloud music storage app and player, Google Music works in a pinch. It’s basic and easy to use. Once you’ve uploaded your music, you can access the files wherever you have an internet connection. The actual music quality sounds good, and I never had any audio or skipping problems due to internet connection issues. From a value and convenience standpoint, Google Music is great. The overall user experience is only average though. If Amazon and the Kindle Fire kill it in execution or Apple’s iCloud delivers a uniquely Apple experience, I would be hard pressed to find a reason to stay loyal to Google Music.