Google, that seemingly all-encompassing entity, has its
fingerprints all over just about every digital realm of our lives. And, in
2011, in addition to entering the social networking fray, the technology giant is also using the fast-evolving concept of cloud
computing -- storing data on external servers rather than locally on your
computer -- to help revolutionize how we collect and enjoy our music
collections. Not unlike, say, Apple.
The premise is simple enough: Google's Music Beta promises to bring your personal song
stash to a magical "hard drive in the sky," accessible anywhere you have
Remember the 1990s? In the realm of music, that
decade seems light years ago in term of how we carry around and comsume
our music. Back then, carrying, a significant amount of music around
consisted of toting around a cumbersome Case Logic CD case, which was
usually dotted with a fair share of surreptituosly purloined discs that
were we acquired from the lost art form known as "burning."
It's hard to think that it's been over a full decade
since Apple changed the game with iTunes and the dominance of the iPod.
Suddenly, people could carry large collections of tunes in their
pockets, no heavy lifting required. The revolution was so complete
that we really take Apple's model of media player for granted these days. But with hard
drive space, efficiency and fast bandwidth falling in price over the
past decade, a dramatic sea change has been simmering.
The Google Music Beta service, which is still only
open to a limited group of testers, promises a new future in how the
everyday music listener interacts with his or her library. It's hardly
an original concept -- in addition to Apple, Amazon also has created a cloud music
service this year.
It's in the differences between the three models where a winner will emerge.
Considering that it's still in beta, the Google
Music service currently boasts a solid set of features.
Here's a quick rundown:
You download a small, unobtrusive program to your computer, point it to any
folder or simply to your iTunes library and sync. Music is then sucked off of your machine and into the cloud. Once your music is
added to the cloud -- a process that can take up to a few days -- you have access to it from any web browser,
even on your phone. Currently, the we browsing access from your cell phone is a little clunky at this point. But there's also a nifty Android app that makes navigating your collection a
The pros: Google Music has great predictive search features -- just
like the Google web site. It works extremely fast with high sound
fidelity, despite the fact that it's streaming music. It's easy to sort and organize collections.
And user scripts can be written for the service, expanding its capabilities
to other services, such as the music site last.fm
The cons: You have very little control over what exactly
goes into the cloud -- you pick to sync the program with your iTunes library and you get all of it, no matter what. And iPhone users in particular get a watered down, web-only
experience for now, too, since the App Store has yet to approve the official
Google Music app at the time of this writing. Also, you can't buy tracks through Google Music
(agreements with the major record labels fell through). We still don't
know anything about pricing, since it's a pretty safe bet that Google
will start asking for money once the "beta" tag is removed from the
Still, at this point, most misgivings with Google Music must be
discounted by the fact that this, after all, is a very early iteration
of a service that has about as much potential an iTunes did way back in
2001. They really did get a lot of things right, too.
And while lugging
around an external hard drive in order to have ubiquitous access to your
entire library is already far less work than carrying a backpack full of CDs or a crate
of records, Google is showing us that cloud computing can lift even that
weight off of our shoulders.