Editorial: Engadget on Google Music and Movies for Android

Google dropped an amazing amount of stuff on us this morning, up to and including using your phone to turn off a lamp and a tablet to control a giant wooden labyrinth. Move past the flash, though, and the news with the most immediate impact to Android users is the release of the Music Beta by Google, plus the availability of movie rentals on the go. Now you can take your tunes all up into the cloud and pay too much to bring some movies along with you. That all sounds great, but we have somewhat mixed feelings about the whole thing. Check 'em out below.

Did Google revolutionize the world today when it announced Google Music... sorry... Music Beta by Google? No. It didn't manage to get the major labels all lined up, smiling and laughing, and without them the best the company could hope to do is make life easier for its users. That it has done. Before Music Beta: download tunes somewhere else, convert them, plug in your phone, copy files, wait. After Music Beta: download tunes somewhere else, upload to the cloud, live free and easy.

Those tunes get pushed around to wherever you are and, if you're making room in pockets and bags for multiple devices like I usually am, that is indeed a beautiful thing. Still I'm left wondering on a number of things: What's the quality going to be like? Do I really have to pin everything I want to listen to in coach? What's it going to cost? Amazon has already tipped its hand to show the Cloud Player service will be free only in limited quantities, but that service has the lovely added benefit of letting you buy and play music in one place. With Google's offering I'm still left moving music manually. Sure, there's a lot less shuffling to do than before, but when the competition offers a seamless experience from the moment you click "buy" it's hard not to feel just a bit underwhelmed.

Oh, and $4.99 movie rentals in HD? Call me when I can get some Netflix on my phone.

Hi, I'm Vlad and I use Google Music Beta. You may know me from such hits as "listening to The Unforgiven at 2AM" or "getting down with Alanis Morissette on a Sunday afternoon." Actually, scratch the "may," if you work at Google, I'm sure you already know me better than I know myself. The consumer proposition with Google Music seems lush -- throw your music into the cloud, access it as and when you want to, download it if you need to; it's just dreamy -- but the price users will pay for it is the concession of yet another realm of personal info to Google's omniscient bots.

It's already slightly disturbing to access the web version of Android Market and see every device I've reviewed pop up, now every one of my many ill-judged musical choices must be known to Google too? Let's not kid ourselves, all those sales Apple makes on iTunes aren't going unrecorded either, but Google is unique in the vastness of data it can source and accumulate about us as individuals. It's all done with our best interests in mind, we're told, but I urge caution when hitching a ride on the cloud of convenience -- data is the information age's currency and Google Music is shaping up to be yet another massive aggregator of it for Mountain View.

Being in Canada, I unfortunately won't actually be able to use Google's new music service anytime soon, but I do still have a few thoughts on it. The short of it is that this was clearly something Google had to do, and probably should have done six months ago. Essentially mimicking Amazon's Cloud Player is a smart move to get it off the ground -- as is the fact that it's free, at least initially -- but I think Google will soon need to expand it to include more traditional streaming and / or music sales as well, especially if it's to truly compete with whatever Apple has planned. Whether that means rolling its own service or gobbling up a company like Spotify, MOG or Rdio, I'm not sure, but users need to pay for that music they're listening to from the cloud somehow (even if it's through advertising) and, right now, Google is out of that loop. Given its other big play today with movie rentals, however, I'm pretty sure it realizes that.

Sean Hollister:
Eric Schmidt wanted disposable Chrome OS laptops, but it looks like Android will embrace the cloud first -- Google's new streaming multimedia services sound like a giant step in reducing our dependency on local storage. Assuming legal repercussions don't force Google out of the arena, what Mountain View is proposing is a way for me to never have to carry gigabytes upon gigabytes of video and music around or sync it with a physical cord, and yet -- thanks to local caching -- still be able to have some portion of it handy when there's no wireless signal around. It's a tempting vision of the future, and one we're already enjoying with our email to some degree, but the viability will depend greatly on how seamlessly and reliably these services work on a large scale, and what price we'll have to pay to use them. Google seems to be hinting that Music won't be free forever, and while movie rentals are great, more permanent purchases can chain us to an ecosystem, as we've seen with iTunes for years.

Richard Lawler:
Better late than never, Google's big news today for movie and music services reflect that, like Microsoft before it, it can't wait for hardware partners to build the cohesive media strategy (Is it too much to ask for the same treatment when it comes to technical support? Forums aren't cutting it.) necessary to tie all those devices together. One of the biggest questions I have is if competition will doom these arrangements or, hopefully, make them all better. Later this year customers will have the opportunity to pick up a phone, tablet or TV from the likes of Sony, Samsung and Vizio that will feature media stores selling music and movies right next to the official Google / Android Market offerings. Leading the way with sharing across devices, wireless sync and one click purchasing is a good first step, but let's see how eager hardware makers are to keep up with those promises of speedy updates if Google's efforts squeeze out their own VOD plans.

As a customer, I'm still concerned about privacy when it comes to this massive cloud storage -- I don't want to get the DJ Drama mixtape treatment if a case goes the wrong way and the RIAA gets the ability to scan my MP3s for their legality -- assuage those fears and include scrobbling first, then I'll consider switching from my self-hosted Audiogalaxy or Subsonic setup to yours. I like the play-anywhere theme shown so far from the YouTube / Android movie service, but Google has to prove it can compete on selection and quality of experience (no drops, HD picture, high quality audio where applicable) before it's a legitimate option.

Eschewing major label support has thus far proven a canny move for Amazon. The company, like the rest of us, knew what was coming from Google and Apple, and managed to get out in front and frame the conversation. When Apple does ultimately release the inevitable cloud-based version of iTunes, however, that conversation will change entirely. Even if the app is released devoid of features offered in the competition -- take offline caching as a random example -- it will be beautifully designed, intuitive, linked beautifully with the company's proprietary hardware, and the decided bonus of major label support. Google Music, however, has an important point that a future Apple service will almost certainly lack: Android's ever-increasing user base.

To be honest, I'm pretty underwhelmed with Google's foray into the cloud. Launching Music Beta without the consent of the recording industry may sound pretty wild and daring, on paper, but to me, it just seems like Google's trying to apply extra pressure on the labels, in an attempt to speed up their music store negotiations. Plus, I'm not really sure what separates Google Music from any other streaming service. Sure, the pinning function and apparently seamless cross-platform synchronization present obvious benefits for Android users (disclosure: I'm not one of them).

But I don't think those features, in and of themselves, are enticing enough to lure other consumers away from whatever service(s) they're already using. It's worth noting, however, that this is still very much a work-in-progress, and it's probably premature to evaluate the entirety of Google Music based on this initial, brief glimpse. But unless the company introduces something enticing enough to jerk everyone out of iTunes' orbit, it's difficult to call today's announcement a game changer.

Sean Buckley:
Google Music is just another moment where I stop and ask myself -- why, again, am I a Windows Phone early adopter? As neat as Zune Pass is, it's a far cry from cloud access to my entire personal music library, with playlists to boot. Storage space for 20,000 songs is almost enough to keep me interested on it's own -- almost. When Google talks the record labels out of their tinfoil hats, we'll talk.

Zach Honig:
As someone who uses a handful of mobile devices, multiple desktops, laptops, and Squeezebox at home, I've grown to love Rhapsody for its ability to instantly stream pretty much anything I want to listen to, assuming I'm connected to the cloud. I'm definitely going to give Google Music a shot, but I'm not psyched about uploading my own music. For those of us who don't want to pay for a Rhapsody subscription (or have more obscure tastes that don't jive with the streaming service's collection), Music definitely seems like a step up from the Amazon equivalent. Either way, I'm going to think twice about dropping a few hundred dollars for extra storage on my next cell phone.

I have a massive music library, and syncing those files across my myriad devices has always been a painful experience. El Goog is taking that tedious task out of the music consumption experience with Music Beta and I, for one, welcome the change. Sure, there are other streaming services like Rdio that give you the tunes you want over WiFi (for a price), but I've got lots of live shows and other audio files in my library that simply aren't aren't available through other music platforms. Add in the memory space savings that come courtesy of cloud storage and a local caching feature to give me offline access to my music, for free... what's not to love? Of course, there's no way of knowing how long Google will give us gratis musical cloud storage, but to me, having access to all of my music wherever and whenever I want -- in hassle-free fashion -- is priceless.

Truthfully, Music Beta by Google feels like a broken attempt to be the next great music subscription service. The outfit made no bones about the fact that it had biggest aspirations, but an undisclosed number of labels simply refused to cooperate. It's a shame, too. What we're left with is a sophisticated Dropbox, but tailored for music. Sure, the Pinning (read: offline) feature is snazzy, and the ability to access your music cloud from any device at any time sounds appealing, but Google has some serious work to do with management. There needs to be options when it comes time to upload your tunes, and moreover, there needs to be a compelling reason to pay for this in due time.

Yeah, pay for it. Google noted that users of the beta wouldn't have to shell out, but Google doesn't say "for now" unless they mean it. Would I use this as a free add-on to Google's blossoming group of services? Sure. Would I pay for it? Probably not. Now, if they'd throw in a few terabytes and add similar support for photos...

I think Google Music is great news, especially for people who, like me, jump from device to device regularly and use Google's services extensively. The idea of being able to store all -- if not a significant chunk -- of my music library online for anytime / anywhere access is very compelling. On one hand I'm disappointed (but not surprised) that the labels didn't subscribe to Google's idea of what a cloud music service should be; then again it allows Google to keep its vision un-contaminated and free from the tyranny of the music industry. Besides, it's unlikely that the artists I enjoy listening to would have been available to stream from Google Music anyway. Of course, the real test will come from setting up the service and using it, and I'm looking forward to putting it through its paces and seeing if it lives up to the initial excitement.