Google Unveils Beta Music Service in the Cloud

At its I/O conference yesterday morning, Google unveiled its Google Music Beta service. The long-anticipated invitation-only service will allow users to store up to 20,000 songs in the cloud. But there are some important details and catches.

If you weren’t at the I/O conference, you can only press your nose against the glass and request an invitation. Even if you can use it at this point, the service only works through a browser or an Android-based device. Users of iPhones are out of luck. So are music aficionados who live outside the United States. Furthermore, at least at this point, it looks like you can’t buy songs through the service to add to your music library (although you can add certain free songs as part of music genre packs).

Given those limitations, however, Google Music Beta is pretty cool. Simply upload your songs to the service, and you can access them from any computer connected to the Internet. Any playlist you create can be edited from any device you’re using – so you can create a playlist on your computer and add songs to it on your Android phone, for instance.

If you don’t want to spend a lot of time creating a playlist, Google Music Beta can create one for you. Simply give it one song to start with, and the service will use “Instant Mix” to choose other songs that go well with it. This is Google’s version of Apple’s Genius playlists.

Interestingly, despite the limitations mentioned earlier, Google Music Beta appears to be compatible with iTunes; it will ask you if you want to update your music library automatically with new songs you add to iTunes, and when it asks you where you keep your music, it offers “iTunes player” as one of the options you can click. Check out some TechCrunch screen shots ( and you’ll see what I mean.

Strictly speaking, even if you aren’t able to connect to the cloud, you won’t be completely tuneless. Recently played songs will still be available, even if you’re offline. If you want a little more certainty in your life, you can pick specific albums, artists and playlists to always be available for your listening pleasure while you’re offline.

This caching feature seems designed to wean users away from carrying around a separate music player. Why carry an iPod and your Android phone when the latter can already play all the tunes you need? If you’re traveling by plane, especially, one less electronic device means one less thing to worry about getting through security.

Users who own Android smartphones will probably get the most out of Google Music Beta. There’s something to be said for being able to access your entire music collection from any desktop or laptop without having it take up space on the machine, but that particular benefit becomes even more compelling when you’re dealing with the kind of limited memory endemic to portable electronic devices. Whether Google Music Beta catches on, therefore, depends in part on the market penetration that Android-based smartphones achieve. That’s enough of a reason to keep an eye on it and see how it does.

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