Why Google's new music service might actually work

Google's new products in 90 seconds
Google's new products in 90 seconds

There are so many music subscription services right now that it's hard to notice, let alone care about even more competitors that pop up. But the new Google Play Music All Access, which features unlimited streaming, is built to take on Spotify for real.

What's its secret? Google (GOOG) has Android, the world's largest mobile platform, to help champion its cause.

On a fundamental level, Google Play Music All Access isn't doing anything that Spotify and Rdio aren't doing. For $10 a month, you can log on, search for any track your heart desires, and it then streams from Google's servers. If you want to listen offline, you can cache it to your device.

But Google is combining some of the best qualities exclusive to each service. Like Rdio, its mobile and web-based user interfaces are clean and intuitive, allowing you to build your own library of streaming content from Google's catalog. And it's the only service other than Spotify that really lets you merge your personal music library with the streaming catalog. And when you choose to launch its Pandora-esque radio feature, you can rearrange the automatically generated playlist.

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But none of these are as important as the fact that Google has hundreds of millions of Android users who are already familiar with and invested in many of Google's other services. If Google can build some of the functionality of the music service into its other apps (i.e. the new Google Hangouts chat app), that could go a long way to attracting a critical mass of paid subscribers.

After briefly playing with both the web client and the Android app, it's clear Google isn't messing around. The app is attractive, relatively easy to use and fast. Every aspect of the interface, on both the web and the app, is visual without being loud and distracting.

The handling of the personal library could be a bit more intuitive and could benefit from a clearer definition of what's been uploaded and what tracks are offered by the service. While your own files are mostly meant to be uploaded to the cloud, it will also incorporate any files you have saved locally on your Android phone.

In many ways, this is what Spotify should have been doing for awhile. But the Swedish startup does still have a few advantages. It has more songs, strong label relations, an ever-so-slightly more developed social sharing component and a desktop app that lets you incorporate your personal files without having to upload to the cloud. But these aren't things that are out of Google's reach.

But even if everything is great, it's also possible people will want to stick with whatever service they already use, since they've carefully constructed their collections, playlists and preferences there. Ditching Spotify or Rdio would mean abandoning all that time spent tinkering.

But to help entice some of those customers, Google is making a shrewd offer: Sign up before June 30, and you only have to pay $8 a month, compared to the $10 a month that's typical for many other music services.

So can Google really become a threat to the subscription music juggernaut that is Spotify? Google is definitely putting all the pieces in place to at least give itself a fighting chance. Now all it needs is a better name than Google Play Music All Access.

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