Google Music, the Future of Cloud and You

Since the dawn of our species we’ve looked at the stars to determine our future. Now it seems that everyone is more interested in clouds; not least of all our friends at Google. A lot of record label bigwigs and iTunes stalwarts are sure to be wringing their hands and exhaling comically oversized sighs over the debut of Google Music but the question is whether or not they actually have anything to worry about. Music lovers and industry observers alike have been waiting a long, long time for the release of Music and now, with the launch of a beta iteration, we’re able to make better predictions about the future trajectory of the much anticipated service than ever before.

Music Beta by Google (as the service is temporarily named) recently went live through an invite-only system that should be familiar to early Gmail users. While the polish that will no doubt accompany the alpha build of Google Music is currently absent, the majority of the feature set is already in place.

So what is there to be excited about?

Google’s Got Its Head in the Cloud

Cloud saving and playback is the most heavily talked-about feature of Music Beta and the most interesting aspect of Google’s system. While Amazon has rallied the charge on Cloud-based storage/purchase, Google is now playing a bit of catch-up, differentiating itself by forgoing an independent marketplace and focusing instead on simply providing a convenient storage system for a user’s existing music library. This “passive locker system” lets Google neatly bypass the red tape of hashing out licensing agreements with record labels but also has the effect of bowing Music Beta out of the digital music marketplace race before it has even had a go at throwing its hat into the competition.

The Cloud stores music that a user uploads, requiring time and maintenance in order to stay current with any new purchases or CD rips. Whereas a website (and app) like Grooveshark is able to provide a customizable playlist straight from its servers, Music Beta by Google sees users having to spend (a fairly annoying length of) time waiting for their iTunes, Windows Media or general MP3 folders to make their way from harddrive to Cloud.

What once appeared to be an incredibly innovative notion now looks a bit like an anachronism. Syncing between Android devices and browsers does make the whole affair more worthwhile but when a single user name and password can accomplish almost the same level of convenience, in the case of Grooveshark, it’s hard to see much of a point to Music as an alternative.

Pantera to Backstreet Boys: What a Smart Mix!

Instant Mix, the second big feature, not unlike a drunken baseball player, aims for a home run but ends up missing the swing before falling over and vomiting. Google Music’s mixing technology has been touted as something of a successor to iTunes Genius, an intelligent shuffle system that relates one song to another, allowing for simple playlist creation and hands-free party listening. Unfortunately Music Beta accomplishes this with about as much clarity of purpose as contact lenses made of stucco.

The (lack of) success of Instant Mix is based on the Music Beta by Google preview version of course so it’s still anyone’s guess at how the final build will actually shape up. One thing is clear though — if Google isn’t able to substantially improve upon its existing Beta infrastructure then there will hardly be any reason for users to adopt Music.

And this serves as the basis for the troubling impression that Music Beta currently leaves.

After waiting so long, will Google’s foray into Cloud-based music actually have any impact on an industry that has evolved so much since the idea was first conceived of? This depends greatly on user acceptance and the corporation’s ability to refine its existing systems. Unfortunately, a barely-working Instant Mix and a Cloud storage system that is already lagging behind competitors don’t make a strong enough showing to warrant any serious hype as of yet.

So much of what is available through Music Beta has already been done — and in many cases done better — by others. While the idea of streamlining the functionality of Amazon Cloud Drive with Grooveshark or iTunes playlist management is appealing, the limitations that appear to be hampering Google from accomplishing such a thing may be large enough that users won’t be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to bear with the company while it attempts to make this a reality.

Much is made of Cloud computing but, as with all technological innovations, if it isn’t able to present a more convenient option than what is currently available, users won’t rush to adopt it for their software needs. Google has a tough road ahead of it if they’re willing to put in the work required for making Music a relevant service. The basic premise of the web and app software is impressive but until it’s been made sufficiently user friendly (faster uploads, smarter Instant Mix tech, song/album purchasing being made available directly from the service by a third party or Google itself) it’s doubtful whether anyone but the biggest fanboys will want to get on board.

What we can probably all agree on is that some of the most exciting new developments on the horizon will take place in the Cloud. What is more difficult to predict is whether or not Google Music will be at the forefront of this movement or, for once in the company’s life, be playing catch-up to the real innovators.

I am, like many others, a person that likes my music software to be stable, free and to let me access my library through a single, streamlined list (yeah, I still use Winamp) and, if Cloud storage can be added on top of all of this then I’m willing to get behind it. For now Google Music doesn’t look like it’s going to be able to fit that bill but if the service is properly strengthened in time for its official launch, it just may be. Here’s to hoping.

Check Music Beta by Google out for yourself (or request an invite) by clicking on these words.