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Google branches into music, movie streaming

Mark Milian
Google Product Management Director Hugo Barra announced a variety of new services Tuesday.
Google Product Management Director Hugo Barra announced a variety of new services Tuesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Google launched music and movie-rental streaming services on Tuesday
  • Music Beta lets users upload music to Google's servers, similar to Amazon's Cloud Drive
  • Movie prices start at $1.99, but many popular film rentals will retail for $3.99
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San Francisco (CNN) -- With new music, movies and accessory services for Android, Google is taking on Apple in three major areas.

The assault came Tuesday at Google I/O, the company's annual conference, where Product Management Director Hugo Barra announced a variety of new services.

For starters, Google launched music and movie-rental streaming services.

Music Beta lets users upload their music to Google's servers, similar to Amazon.com's recently launched Cloud Drive, and migrate their playlists and data from iTunes. The music player can be accessed from a Web browser as well as from an Android phone or tablet.

Users can add up to 20,000 songs for free, but Paul Joyce, a Google product manager, suggested that the company could charge after the test period. To gain access to Music Beta, people will need to live in the United States and receive a formal invitation from someone who attended the conference or has already gotten one.

The movie rentals will also synchronize between gadgets. Movie prices in the online Android Market start at $1.99, but many popular film rentals retail for $3.99 on the Web store. A movie can be viewed for 24 hours once the user first starts watching.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, also launched a rental store Monday that interfaces with this new marketplace.

The new services will run on multiple Android tablets and smartphones, emphasizing an area where Google has eroded Apple's lead in the past few years. Handsets running Android software have surpassed the iPhone to become the top-selling smartphones worldwide. Google says 100 million Android devices have been activated, at a rate of 400,000 per day.

And Google executives do not shy away from highlighting competition with Apple. Vic Gundotra, a Google executive, introduced Tuesday's keynote presentation by standing in front of a cartoon of the Android mascot eating an apple.

"We were just having a little bit of fun," Gundotra said in a question-and-answer session afterward. "We try not to take ourselves too seriously. We're all doing really amazing work, and I think each team inspires the other."

With Tuesday's news, Google is focusing on areas where Apple has excelled, like digital movies and music. But Apple, with its proprietary accessory connector, has grown a large ecosystem of hardware that works seamlessly with many iPhones, iPods and iPads.

To combat that, Google is trying to standardize how peripherals connect to Android devices. Unlike for Apple's partners, making an Android accessory is free -- as is Android itself for developers to tinker with and use.

"The program is completely open," Barra said during the presentation. "There are no NDAs (non-disclosure agreements). There are no fees. There is no approval process."

The company also took a step outside Apple's area of expertise. Google is planning to adopt the concept of home automation. A system called Android @ Home would allow people to control their lights, speaker systems and thermostats via apps on their phones.

"We'd like to think of your entire home as an accessory," said Google's Joe Britt. "Android is the operating system for your home."

Google is partnering with Lighting Science, which will sell bulbs that can interface with the platform by the end of the year, Britt said.

Britt demonstrated some concepts on stage but stressed that they weren't necessarily products that Google is actively developing. For example, the system could facilitate an alarm clock that slowly raises the lights and turns on music in the bedroom.

"We don't think that we're going to come up with, necessarily, what the killer applications are," Britt added. "Really, we're counting on the imagination of the developer ecosystem to figure out the best way to take advantage of it."

Google also previewed the next version of its Android operating system, called Ice Cream Sandwich. It will incorporate many features of its Honeycomb-powered tablets into phones.

Google says it has also started rolling out an update to tablet software, starting with the Motorola Xoom from Verizon Wireless. That software will also be made available to Google TV owners, along with Android apps that can run on a television set.

Addressing another complaint frequently lobbed at Android, Google has established a committee, including cellular carriers and hardware makers, that will determine how often gadgets should receive software upgrades. As a result, new Android devices will get software updates within 18 months if new software exists and "if the hardware allows," meaning bargain-basement phones may not qualify.

[TECH: NEWSPULSE]

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