Google kicked off its annual Google I/O developers conference by giving people what they've been speculating about for months -- an online music service.
During a keynote presentation on the first day of the conference, Google took the wraps off Music Beta by Google, a service that will enable people to store their music in the cloud and then stream it to all kinds of devices -- tablets, smartphones or PCs.
The company noted that during the beta, the service will be free; the eventual price tag was not disclosed. All of the Google I/O attendees were invited to join the beta. Anyone interested can sign up on the music beta website and request an invitation.
"For Google, it's yet another service that can deliver eyeballs to Google pages and advertisers," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "It's not a music store yet, but can that be far behind? And if it does become a full-fledged music and media store, it has the potential to break Apple's hammerlock on content providers."
The music service should have good synergy with the rapidly growing Android platform, Olds added. "As Android devices multiply, it gives Google a bigger and bigger base to sell to," he said. "It also gives Android device [vendors] a powerful selling point versus iPhones and iPads."
Music Beta by Google will compete with Amazon's Cloud Player, a cloud-based service announced in late March. It also will vie with offerings like Apple's hugely popular iTunes and the music streaming service Rhapsody.
"It's a direct threat to Apple, mainly due to Google's reach and staying power," Olds said. "For other content players, like Amazon, which is in the early stages of the music business, Google's entry into the market has to give them pause."
Google's offering should look familiar to people who already use online music services.
At this point, Google doesn't have a repository of music that people can buy and download, but when users upload their own music, they can sort it into playlists based on artists, songs or genres. And when they add new music to their computers, the songs will automatically be added to their Google Music libraries. As another irritant to Apple, Google also is allowing users to upload their iTunes libraries and playlists.
And Google being Google, there's also a search engine to help people find the song they're looking for. Google also gives people the option of listening to music offline, and it included a feature called Instant Mix that will suggest songs that it thinks go well together.
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