The streaming race continues as Google beats Apple to the punch.

Google-Play-MusicThe latest development in the ongoing saga of music streaming comes as Google launches… wait for it… a music streaming service. In the absence of any word from Apple on their plans for iRadio, Google’s announcement comes as little surprise; music streaming is going from strength to strength and it seems that everybody wants a piece of the action. At first glance the clumsily-named Google Play Music All Access doesn’t scream innovation, but we suspect (and hope) there’s more to come, and that Google’s foray into the music streaming arena is more than just a scrabble for yet more consumer data.

Google has cherry-picked the best features from existing streaming services: access to millions of tracks through licensing deals with majors; an ‘Explore’ tab which throws up suggestions based on your listening; hand-picked tunes from Google music editors; the ability to launch radio stations from songs or artists; and the availability of both online and offline listening.

So what’s new? Dubbed ‘radio without rules’, the custom radio functionality allows you to peek ahead and see what’s coming next in the playlist, enabling you to re-order songs and remove any you don’t want to listen to. There’s no limit on how many songs you can skip and, of course, tracks you like can be given the good old ‘thumbs-up’.

The service utilises Google’s best assets: search and usability. As undisputed champions of search engine technology, Google’s search tools are accurate and comprehensive. If they can apply those tools to streaming, music suggestions will be accurately matched to your listening taste, but will also be gleaned from the furthest corners of the player’s musical landscape. Google has also (as with most of its apps and products) created a delightful user interface, which will no doubt bring in some punters who are accustomed to Gmail and YouTube functionality. The Google cloud capability is also very attractive; using the Music Manager desktop app, you’re able to upload your own library onto Google Music so that you can jump seamlessly between streamed songs and music you own, and do so across all your devices.

Google’s other big party trick is, of course, advertising, so their choice to charge for the service has raised suspicion. If Spotify’s 18m non-paying users are anything to go by, Google could be missing out on a substantial chunk of the market. Given that the vast majority of the company’s existing suite of services are free and ad-supported, it seems an unusual choice.

Some insist that the success of the service is irrelevant and that it’s a ploy to gobble up yet more of our personal data. A more optimistic view is that by launching with a subscription fee the service maintains some integrity, and profits can be re-invested into Google’s music team in order to produce those ground-breaking features which are yet to appear. It’s also refreshing to see money change hands for music in a climate where all too many new products and services pimp out music for free.

We’re not postulating that Google really cares about music, but opening up streaming to their vast audiences and account users could be an excellent thing for the industry. According to the Official Streaming Chart, 4.4bn streams have been delivered in the past year – proof that, in the words of Deezer‘s Mark Foster, streaming is “now an essential way of consuming music” (well, he would say that). What’s most interesting about these streaming statistics is that the top 100 tracks account for less than 10% of the total stream, meaning that it’s not just the most popular tracks being listened to through streaming.

Streaming is now an essential way of consuming music.

Gmail currently has over 425m users, while Google+ has 343m. Offering a familiar and easy-to-use streaming service to already-converted Google account holders could make waves in artists’ exposure, if people are willing to pay.

Your move, Apple.

Author Zara Carey
20th May, 2013

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