Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reasons to Have Faith in the Google Music Beta

Many people were slightly underwhelmed at what functionalities went live at the Google Music beta’s launch. Not only was support missing from the world’s second largest music publisher Warner Music Group, but the Google Music beta was also missing core functionality to purchase music on Android devices and PCs. Google has started to roll out music purchases to specific Android phones since the original announcement, but it is still easy to sense that there is a cloud of uncertainty hanging over Google’s latest project.

To further complicate the situation, Google is not entering the cloud-based music market alone. Amazon’s Cloud Player and Apple’s iCloud and iTunes Match services already exist and are competing for money and mind share.  There are also other music services that offer alternative music purchasing services that have gained traction such as Spotify and Pandora that the Google Music beta has to compete with. With such well-established competition, it can be easy to dismiss Google Music to be another one of Google’s ill-fated ventures.

When we take a step back and look at the bigger picture however, the puzzle pieces start to fall into place. Amazon does not have direct unconditional access to the mobile device market outside of the Kindle, and iTunes Match and iCloud services are limited to iOS devices. Google has long wanted to enter into the music market, and by focusing on developing Google Music for their Android devices, it can meet that goal and help with their push to increase the Android market share on the mobile handheld market.

One of the advantages that Google holds over most of its competitors is that it can craft the music service to work seamlessly with their Android OS and having a refined Google Music experience on Android devices will help Android's campaign against Windows Phone 7 and Apple’s iOS 5. It is also easy to overlook that fact that Google’s stranglehold on search market will help power music sales through Google Music, letting them link music purchases to Google Music in search results, setting Google up in a strong position to compete with the digital music sales from Amazon and iTunes.

As for the current piecemeal state of the Google Music beta, the stress and infrastructure testing partially explains the slow rollout of the various Google Music functionalities. However the main reason for the slow rollout of Google Music beta services comes from the Google’s difficult negotiations with Warner Music Group. Pushing out the beta undoubtedly helps gives Google some additional leverage at the negotiation table with Warner, and Google probably hopes that as the beta become more popular it will help push the labels that have not joined to hop on board. Without Warner’s vast catalogue of music, Google does not want initial impressions of the Google Music beta to be dictated by limited library of songs it has to offer for sale, and slowly rolling out the music purchase functionality under the beta moniker gives Google time to close out any negotiations. 

Even though the limited scope of the Google Music beta can be explained, there are critical 
questions that still remain unanswered for many undecided adopters. Currently there is no way to predict if Google Music will be able to overcome Amazon and Apple’s competitive offerings, and success will depend on what unique functionalities Google will implement in the future and how competitively they price the service. Those who want a cloud-based music service are most likely already invested in popular music services such as Spotify or Amazon’s Cloud Player, so Google needs offer something truly compelling to convert those people and to attract those who are on the fence about paying for cloud-based music services. 

Android’s current market growth can secure a decent following for Google Music if Google fails to offer a uniquely compelling service that stands out from the competition, but Google has too much invested in this newest music venture to settle for anything less than first place. Unlike the much-maligned and recently departed Google Buzz, Google Music actually fits in with Google’s long term business plans and it is easily compatible with Google’s other services, so there are good reasons to be bullish on Google Music’s future despite the somewhat underwhelming launch.

For additional details on how the Google Music Beta works and what is currently offered, go check out Engadget’s excellent breakdown of the service.

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