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Google Music: iTunes for Android or something more?

Doug Gross, CNN
A graffitied version of the Android robot was on hand for the Google Music announcement on Wednesday.
A graffitied version of the Android robot was on hand for the Google Music announcement on Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • By offering mp3s, Google Music can be used on a host of devices
  • Some tech writers were cool to Google's rollout, saying it's nothing new
  • But Google Music gives Android devices an iTunes-like option

(CNN) -- Google Music, an online music store and "free locker" for digital music, was rolled out to the public on Wednesday.

On Thursday, however, questions abounded as to whether the service will amount to simply a "me too" move, following Apple and Amazon's well-worn trail through the digital-music forest, or a significant step toward making Google an e-music player.

And while much of the always ready-to-attack tech blogosphere was less than enthusiastic, it's legitimate to ask whether that's even the real question.

In a way, the product is just one more front in the battle between Android and Apple.

Away from the desktop, iTunes users must have an iPod, iPhone or other Apple device to play the music, movies and other content they download.

By selling more widely usable mp3s, Google Music will be viable across multiple devices. And, of course, Google would prefer you to choose a device running its Android operating system.

"In the end, this isn't about helping Google 'catch up to iTunes' -- it's about filling the big, gaping, musical hole in Google's mobile business," Peter Kafka wrote for All Things D.

While no single Android phone has approached the popularity of the iPhone, Android smartphones as a whole have become a serious force, capturing more than half the overall market during the last quarter. (Android phones amounted to 52% of the global market compared to about 15% for the iPhone, according to Gartner).

Gizmodo's Adrian Covert, who it's safe to say was unimpressed with Google's offering, says that nothing that was rolled out on Wednesday would entice iTunes or Amazon users to switch.

Google Music is expected to soon offer 13 million songs from three of the four top record labels (Warner Music balked) as well as independent bands and includes free cloud storage for up to 20,000 songs. (Apple's similar iMatch costs $25 a year).

"The technologies might be current, but the ideas behind Google Music are tired," Covert wrote. "Speaking of old and tired, were you really pining away for another a la carte music store? Probably not. Most of us have been buying tracks from iTunes and Amazon for years."

But: Is enticing users to switch even the goal? For someone trying to decide between buying an Apple or Android device, iTunes could be a deciding factor. Google Music, at least in part, could take that bullet out of Apple's gun.

"There are two things the critics decline to acknowledge: that Google is providing a simple, free service, and that all Google products start out underwhelming and gradually expand," Devin Coldewey wrote for TechCrunch. "Android was a mess when it showed up. And it's still a mess -- a mess blowing up to the tune of half a million devices a day."

And with a long-term investment of resources (and, presumably, the successful wooing of more record labels), the Google Music vs. iTunes tilt could eventually rival the current iPhone vs. Android fight.

"Apple now faces its arch rival in the retail-music sector where Apple is a juggernaut," wrote CNET's Greg Sandoval. "But it also means that iTunes will face a company with deep pockets, a history of success in music (YouTube is one of the popular music distributors on the Web) and popular consumer devices, Android phones and tablets, that can help market the music store. This is something few previous rivals possessed."

But first, Google will have to get over the cool reception the launch got in some quarters, largely dinging the company for lacking innovation in a product that got a star-studded, splashy roll-out.

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