Mobile access to music isn't a new trend. We've had car radios and portable radios for decades. Then came inventions like the portable cassette player, portable CD player and MP3 players. With each generation of product, we expanded our options to take our music with us on the go. But each of these gadgets gave us limited access and it wasn't always easy to share music across multiple devices. Google's Music service aims to change that.
At its most basic level, Google Music is a cloud storage service coupled with a simple music player interface. You can upload songs to your Google Music account and access them with a computer or Internet-capable device using the Google Music app. Google allows you to upload up to 20,000 songs for free. Google limits the file size for an individual song to 250 megabytes, which might require you to use a lower bit rate when converting tracks to digital files.
Google Music supports MP3 and aac files across all platforms. The Windows version of Google Music supports wma files. Linux computers support ogg files. And while you can upload FLAC files to Google Music, Google will transcode those files into MP3 formats at 320 kbps. Because MP3 is a lossy format, this compression might have an impact on the sound quality.
While you can log into your Google Music account from multiple computers and devices, only one device can actually play music at any given time. Two people can't listen to different devices accessing the same account at the same time. This is how Google prevents people from using Google Music as a way to encourage piracy.
Even with Google's protection in place, the music industry isn't thrilled with Google Music. Google sought out deals with the record industry before launching Google Music but didn't make much progress. Eventually, the company decided to move forward with a beta test of Google Music without licenses. From Google's perspective, Google Music is like any other storage device. If you purchase a song, you're allowed to transfer that song to an MP3 player or smartphone. You could also store that song on a hard drive connected to your computer. You could even transfer it to a video game console. Google Music is like any other data storage device -- it's just that this storage device might be hundreds of miles away from the person who bought the song.
Google is still trying to make deals with record labels. Right now, the only way to get your music onto Google's service is to upload it yourself. If you have a slow connection and a large music library, this could take hours. With the proper licensing agreements, Google could incorporate a sales platform that would allow you to buy music and automatically store it to your Google Music account.
Google's cloud services are likely just the beginning of a full suite of products that will shift computing away from the consumer and onto servers. As broadband penetration spreads across the globe and the focus shifts to inexpensive computers and mobile devices, cloud services will become more compelling. Using cloud services requires a level of trust in the provider. Google will have to prove that it is reliable and ethical with its cloud services or risk alienating users. Are you willing and ready to have a company like Google handle your data and provide your computer services?