On Wednesday, Google launched an Internet music sales service in partnership with three major record companies in a move to make its Android smartphones and tablets as central to the music business as Apple's iPhones and iPads.
The Google Music service, which is expected to be exported to other countries soon, will compete directly with Apple and Amazon. It will sell music to consumers and allow them to access songs from any PC or Android-based mobile device. But the new Google service goes two steps farther -- it allows users to listen to songs with friends on the new Google+ social network, and it lets independent artists sell their music directly to customers through Google's Android Market.
"Google Music is about discovering, purchasing and sharing music in new, innovative and personalised ways," Jamie Rosenberg, Google's head of digital content and strategy for Android, said in announcing the new venture in Los Angeles.
Google's big record label partners -- Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group (with a roster that includes Elton) and EMI Music -- hope that by allowing the owners of many of the 200 million existing Android devices to download music the way iPod, iPhone and iPad owners can, they will increase the flow of money to the troubled recording industry.
A music store integrated with the Android phones and tablets will also address perhaps the most glaring gap between Google's Android devices and Apple's iPhone and iPad, increasing Android's attractiveness to phone manufacturers and wireless carriers, analysts said, as well as boosting Google+.
"It's something the company absolutely had to do," said Tom Mainelli, an analyst who follows the mobile market for research firm IDC. "It certainly makes Google and all of their partners on those devices, be it phones or media tablets, it makes them much more viable as they try to compete with Apple and Amazon."
The service will sell individual song downloads for 99 cents from Google's Android Market. A Google Music account at music.google.com will permit users from any PC or Android-based mobile device to upload, store and stream up to 20,000 songs they either already own or have purchased. There is no charge to use that storage and streaming service.
Google Music will initially offer buyers access to a catalog of 8 million songs from its partnership with Sony, Universal, EMI and other independent labels, but that library is expected to grow to 13 million tracks in the next few months.
Google failed to finalise a deal with the fourth major label, Warner Music Group, whose artists include such names such as Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, and Linkin Park.