Google is nothing if not innovative, and they're rebounding with a new shot at claiming a piece of the big music market. Given Google's missteps in the past, what exactly does this mean for the average user?
The More Things Change...
Google has had a few misfires in the recent past, and they're finally pulling the plug on some services that didn't get the kind of user numbers hoped for. Just this month, they officially announced the death of several of their more visible programs in favor of focusing their energies on new products. The most noticeable of these was Wave, although more minor programs were added to the cut too. Google Knol is being cut loose with plans to ultimately move over to Annotum and be separate from Google's selection. These cuts also claimed one of my personal favorites, Google Search Timelines, in favor of other similar services that otherwise exist.
Google Wave was an interesting entrance into the world of social media that went alongside the failure of Google Buzz. It tended to have some fairly neat technological offerings, but it looks like the product was a great idea looking for a market. Things like real-time typing and communication didn't draw in enough users to satisfy Google. Of course, the latest offering of Google+ appears to be making headway, which is likely the real reason for the transfer of work. With the new social network rising, it seems a bit redundant to keep Wave alive much longer. There had been rumblings that the program was on its way out for several months, but Google has officially announced the incremental shutdown that starts next year until the entire program will die on April 30th of 2012.
The More They Stay the Same
Google isn't exactly shrinking though. Just as it skims down its offerings, it comes out with something new. In this case, it's Google Music. The new service from Google should shake things up a little bit by adding a third major party to online music sales. The market will now contain Apple, Amazon and Google.
Google's coming out swinging too. Google Music is at least on par with the other services right out of the gate. For starters, it seems to offer a fairly robust online store. They already have deals with all the major record labels, except for Warner Music. This may prove to be a bit of a stumbling point, as Warner Music is home to a variety of artists: They hold the rights for Led Zepplin and Prince, for example (there go my plans for a Purple Rain When the Levee Breaks mashup -Ed.).
The service itself really is worth watching though. While the online store section won't be revolutionary, it's going to tie in with and strengthen existing Google services in interesting ways.
Google Music's Big Draws
The first and more interesting aspect in technical terms is that Google is matching and improving upon the idea of cloud-based music. Users of Google Music will be able to stream uploaded and purchased music right through their web browser. Amazon offers a similar service, but it's good to see that it's spreading. It will also be integrated into Android powered devices allowing them to download or stream the music on the go. This should be a fairly big point for the range of devices now using the operating system.
There's also an interesting social aspect. While both iTunes and Amazon have included ways to share music and songs along social networks (Amazon added several social network apps and iTunes created Ping), Google is incorporating Google Music into their new social network, Google+. Google Music users can share any song with a friend on Google+, and the friend will be able to enjoy one free and complete playthrough of the song.
What It Means for the Future
As a whole, I don't expect this to shift things around too much. Amazon has been playing a similar game for a while, so Google isn't really breaking new ground with this project. That said, having a third major marketplace in the field should spur some nice competition, which will let everyone benefit a bit. It's never a bad idea to make a few big companies fight for their slice of the market.
What may be more interesting is Google's new direction though. As you can see, they're taking their services down an interesting path. A lot of focus is going toward providing one big experience for their users. In the past, things like Google Documents added new features for Gmail users and basic account holders. Things are changing though. They're cutting out a lot of auxiliary services, in favor of circling the wagons around their new social networking hub. Google Music will likely draw people into Google+ and Google+ users will find some neat options in the new music store.
This is a bit of a more insular focus for Google, apparently there to further secure Android and Google+ users and bring them into the fold. It could be the start of a larger battle, as Google moves to leverage its share of the mobile market while making some money selling music and getting people to use Google+. It will be interesting to see whether this new project will make much of a splash, or whether it will be washed away to join Wave and Buzz.