Google has an impressive track record of keeping up with the times and eventually redefining them. As we move further beyond mp3 downloads into the world of streaming music, it was to be expected that Google would endeavor to carve its place out in the market. However, this is where the company could run into some trouble, at least in the beginning. Though streaming music apps have increased in popularity by weaving in social networking, the concept is far from new. Rhapsody has been around since 2001 and several other companies with similar models have thrown their hats in the ring in the years since (Pandora, Slacker, Last.fm, Spotify, etc.)
This presents a challenge for Google Play Music All Access. With plenty of long-established competition in place, Google will need to give music lovers a compelling reason to switch services. Dealing with music, people tend to stick to what they’re used to. Created playlists, meticulously arranged libraries which include cover art and ID3 tagging (some, or much of this done manually), and integration with friends’ libraries give listeners good reason to stay put. That being said, Google has proven in the past that they won’t cower in the face of competition. With Apple taking the cell phone market by storm in 2007, Google made a very aggressive and successful approach with its Android operating system. One would like to think that Google has done their homework on streaming music services, and that this time will be no different.
Putting Google Play Music All Access through its paces for a few hours, I didn’t notice any glaring omissions at first. A faithful Spotify user myself, I found that I could pretty much get on the GPMAA service and do the same things. You can start a radio station from a song you like, rate songs as they come up, and Google will recommend music to suit your tastes as it gathers information from this. As I started to explore it a bit more, I found a few concerns, the biggest one being its lack of social network interactivity. Obviously, it is to be expected that Google+ compatibility would be included, but I literally know all of ten people that use it (not counting people that simply have gmail accounts). Your experience may be different than mine in this aspect, but with other streaming music services offering a bit more in the way of sharing music with friends or discovering new artists and songs by seeing what your buddies are listening to, it will be noticed by more than a few people.
GPMAA gives you an allotment of 20,000 songs you can add in from your own music library. Upon doing this, I looked through my library for artist photos and cover art for albums. I had high hopes for this part of the service being that Google has been the best internet search engine I’ve ever used. As I scrolled down my library, I noticed Busta Rhymes and LL Cool J had no photo above their names…seriously, Google? Another puzzling thing I came across is how the search engine deals with typos. We’ve all had times searching (or Googling) something where we type in haste and miss a letter or two. In GPMAA, I searched one of my favorite artists, Norah Jones. I got a bit ahead of myself and forgot the h at the end of her first name. While it did pull up four of her albums, it did not pull up her artist profile where I could then start a Norah Jones radio station. It’s a minor annoyance in this case, but if you’re not 100% sure on the spelling of an artist or band, you may have to type it in plain ol’ Google and let it correct you there. Yeah, that’s an issue I’m sure they will be fixing. Aside from that, the rest of the app has an ease of use that falls in line with everything else Google offers.
Then there’s the issue of money. Like the competition, unlimited song skips and certain customization options based on your specific taste in music will come at a premium. If you sign up before June 30th, the service will run you $7.99 monthly. From there it will go up to $9.99. Neither the free or premium versions have ads like Pandora or Spotify, but after continued use, the app will feel a bit gimped until you pay up. The premium version is free to try for 30 days as of right now. With many features promised in the future, such as delivering improved music suggestions and even news based on what you’re listening to, leaving your current paid-subscription service for GPMAA would be a leap of faith. Google always seems to win…eventually. Only time will tell for their latest experiment.