Google Music Is A Real Beta

I have spent a great deal of time this week working with the new Google Music Beta.  And I am finally at a point where I can speak with a degree of confidence.  What do I think of the new Google service?  I think it is a real beta.  It has some very rough edges.  But it is chock full of promise.  It has some unique and innovative features.  And there are some things that are simply undone or they are incomplete.

The Good

There are a lot of outstanding features in the Google offering.

  • The current Google offering provides for storage of up to 20,000 songs.  This is outstanding.  If this model is carried forward, Google Music will destroy the competition by starving the market.  My song base alone is over 12GB.  So if I stay with Amazon, I will need to pay for a 20GB allotment.  That will mean ~$20 per year.  That’s not much.  But when it’s compared to a free product, I will always take free – unless free doesn’t meet my minimum feature requirements.  [Note: Google may get themselves into some trouble with such a generous storage limit.  The government might choose to bring a case against Google for anti-competitive practices.  I don’t think that I’d agree with such a claim.  But I can see where Amazon and Apple might support someone else bringing such a claim to the federal courts.]
  • The service itself is stable and the music streams reliably.  While I have had some challenges with streaming to my phone, most of my experience has been outstanding.
  • The user interface on the phone is beautiful.  It is a joy to work with the mobile tool.  While the “look and feel” of the Amazon tool is eminently functional, it is positively clunky.  Google has obviously spent some time making the mobile experience very appealing.

The Bad

Despite all the good features, there are some serious shortcomings in the initial offering.

  • The tool that loads music onto the service is positively anemic.  As noted in my previous post, loading music is an all-or-nothing proposition.  To load individual songs (or new sub-folders in a nested hierarchy), you have to reconfigure the music loading tool to point to specific folders.  Then you have to find the option in Settings that allows you to manually load music.  Then you have to push the Start Now button.  Google really needs to spend some time working on this process.  You can “stretch” the tool to do your bidding.  But ease of use in music loading is a definite weakness.
  • The view options are really limited.  Yes, you can navigate around in the web client.  But it is not a beautiful and robust client: it is a functional client.  That said, the Android client is beautiful.  And it has some of the view options that I like.  But it would be nice to have similar options between dissimilar clients.  Whether for good or ill, the Amazon client has a common appearance across every platform – including the Apple platform.
  • There is no music store interface.  When I went through the process of loading files, I noted that some of the songs (that I had on my hard drive) came from questionable sources.  In my case, I had gotten a copy of “Riders on the Storm” (by the Doors) from the web.  I had used the song for a video that I had made for my son a few years ago.  But I had never gotten around to buying a copy of the song.  So I used Amazon’s service to buy the “Best of…” album from The Doors.  Having an integrated service (from any vendor) would be most welcome.  I have found that since using the Amazon client, I’ve probably purchased a half dozen albums that I would have otherwise not purchased.  This is especially true of impulse purchases.  Having an electronic wallet and an “always on” connection has allowed me to experience impulse buying in a whole new light.
  • There are no tag searching or tag editing options at all.  For some folks, ID3 tags are vitally important.  And there is no attention to this subject at all.
  • There is no support for scrobbling music to Last.fm.  Yes, there are ways of scrobbling when using the web client.  Dan Slaughter has put together some excellent scripts that work with both Google Music and Amazon Cloud Drive.  You can find information about these tools here.  But it must be noted that there is no support currently available for the mobile (i.e., Android) client.

The Ugly

Finally, there are some ugly issues that really need to be resolved before this product can become a traditional Google beta (i.e., a complete product).

It took me almost a week to get the product to work on my phone.  The product would install successfully. And I could see all of the local music, but I couldn’t see anything that was on my cloud drive.  At first, I thought that this was a problem with my custom ROM.  I use Liberty 2.0.  And some apps have trouble with some of the things that jrummy does with the ROM.  But that was not the case.

I was about ready to give up on it when I had an unforeseen (and problematic) product upgrade for LauncherPro.  My entire LauncherPro config was wiped out and needed to be rebuilt.  Once I solved that problem, I went back to the Google Music service.  And what to my wondering eyes did appear, but my music collection (but no tiny reindeer). I have to assume that the cleanup of LauncherPro solved my issues – though I have no way of proving it.  Either way, the Google Music product now works superbly – though I wish I really knew what caused the trouble in the first place.

But to me, the most troubling aspect of this service (as well as the Amazon service) is the issue of privacy.  It is one thing to believe in the safety and security of your own home.  But when you store your media on an external service that is not within your home, do you have any degree of privacy?  Perhaps you do.  Then again, perhaps you don’t.

Part of me is very troubled that I have my musical tastes  (and my reading tastes) exposed to any corporation.  But it would be even more troubling if that same corporation made my content tastes accessible to the government.  Do I have anything to fear currently?  No, I really don’t.  I try to ensure that all of my content is licensed.  And I am pretty darned pedestrian in my reading and musical tastes.  In fact, most people call me a prude.  But I don’t want the government to know what I think.  It’s none of their business.  Finally, I broadcast (via blog, tweet and scrobble) all of my media-related activities.  So am I concerned that anyone will use this information against me?  No, I’m not.  At least, I’m not concerned currently.

But what happens if corporations (or the government) change and become more insidious?  Or what happens when they try to use my data for their own selfish marketing needs?  For me, this possibility is real.  And it gives me reason to pause.  I don’t want to see the firemen break down my front door and seize my copy of the Bible (or the sonnets of Shakespeare, or the music of The Doors).

Bottom Line

I am impressed with the Google service.  I really like their Android client.  I hope that they will create a common client interface across all platforms (including Apple’s iOS).  And I really hope that they take time and care in developing their EULA.  There are some real challenges that must be solved.  Nevertheless, the “all you can drink” service is far more compelling than a “pay per gigabyte” service.

But for now, I’m leaning towards the Amazon platform.  It is a little more polished and a lot more ubiquitous.  Moreover, the Amazon case for privacy is a little more comforting (given Google’s historic willingness to work with the repressive Chinese government).  Finally, Amazon’s integration with a working retail channel is far more compelling.  But if Google can overcome some (or all) of these hurdles, they do have a chance to win my business.

-Roo

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  1. Google Music Beta: What It Does…and What It Doesn’t - May 30, 2011

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