- Google opens a digital music store, and prices are comparable to iTunes
- The company is also opening Google Music, the storage service, to everyone in the U.S.
- Google Music will be free for storing as many as 20,000 songs per account
Google opened an online music store and a free Web storage locker on Wednesday for listening to tracks from computers, tablets and phones, the company announced at a news conference in Los Angeles.
The music store sells songs and albums for prices comparable to iTunes and Amazon MP3, but Google's catalog is smaller. The storefront can be found in the Android Market, an application and website where Google smartphone users can download apps.
Songs purchased from the store are automatically uploaded to Google Music, a locker that can be accessed from an app coming to recent Android phones and tablets in the next few days, or from a website. They allow users to stream songs from their various devices.
The Google locker service launched to a small group in May, and it opened to everyone in the United States on Wednesday. Google Music is free for storing as many as 20,000 songs.
More than half of all smartphones sold worldwide in the last quarter run Google's Android software, according to market research firm Gartner. Google said more than 200 million devices have been activated.
But in the music download market, Apple is king, selling more than half of all U.S. downloads through its iTunes Store, analysts say.
Apple took steps to broaden its offering with the belated launch of iTunes Match on Monday. ITunes Match is similar to Google Music in that it allows customers to store their music catalogs, up to 25,000 songs, on Apple's servers and access them from their computers, iPhones and iPads. Match costs $25 per year.
"At Google, digital music has become fundamental to many things we care very much about," Jamie Rosenberg, Google's director of content for Android, said onstage at the news conference. "Other cloud music services think you have to pay to listen to the music you own. We don't."
ITunes Match has a technological leg up on Google because subscribers can upload their libraries much more quickly. That's thanks to Apple's deals with the music labels that allow it to provide customers with access to the high-quality versions of songs that iTunes sells. With Google Music or Amazon.com's Cloud Drive, users with a lot of music may have to wait several days for their entire catalogs to upload.
The iTunes Store has about 20 million songs, whereas Google has 8 million. Google has signed deals with three of the big four record labels. Warner Music Group, the third largest, whose musicians include Death Cab for Cutie, the Grateful Dead, Muse and T-Pain, is a holdout. Even without Warner, Google said it will add 5 million songs over the next several months.
Customers of T-Mobile USA's cellular network will be able to charge songs to their phone bills rather than setting up a Google account with a credit card.
After buying a song through Google Music, customers can share the track on the Google+ social network. Not surprisingly, Google Music will not integrate with Facebook Music, the aggregation service that launched recently from Google's social-network rival.
Google touted that, unlike other music stores, people who find songs through Google+ will be able to listen to each one in full for free one time before they buy. ITunes only provides 90-second previews. Google has also secured exclusive access to live records from popular bands including Coldplay and the Rolling Stones. Apple is still the only music-download store that has the Beatles.