As was hinted at in the first article of this series, Google Music already has a number of key strengths compared to its rivals. The chief advantage it has over iTunes is its integration into Android, a fast-growing platform that is showing no signs of slowing down (200 million Android users and counting - the HTC One series and the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S III, and even Sony’s vastly improved XPeria line should continue to make Android’s growth explode...). It’s biggest advantage over Amazon MP3 is its far superior Play Music app. Google Music’s cloud storage also give you more free storage than iCloud and Amazon’s cloud storage (for a 20,000 song library, if each song averaged 4MB in size, Google Music would be giving you 80 GB for free, whereas iCloud would charge you $100/year for 70 GB and Amazon would charge you $50/year for 55 GB of your non-Amazon-purchased music). It’s biggest advantage over subscription services like Spotify and Rhapsody is that you actually OWN the music - and, of course, no monthly subscription fee. With these advantages, one might think that Google Music should be king of the hill among music services, but as the previous article discussed, Google’s service is still a fledgling competing against established leaders, and there are several obstacles Google still has to overcome. Obviously, there are other advantages that these competitors enjoy outside of the Android arena, but for the purposes of this series, the focus will remain on Android and on the issues that are within Google’s control to address.
Bridging the Gap: Some Simple Suggestions
I will focus on the same three aspects of Google’s music service that I did in the previous article when making suggestions for improvement: the Play Music app, the cloud library storage, and the Play Store.
The Play Music app:
- Put a “back” button on the notification pulldown widget and the homescreen widget. It really won’t take THAT much screen real estate from the other buttons if you do it right - especially if you offer more than one size option for your homescreen widget.
- Allow for more customization while retaining the clean interface. It’s always a balancing act when it comes to this, but other players pull it off nicely, such as Poweramp, the “Apollo” CM9 player, and many other music player apps. You don’t have to offer a vast array of skins or plugins to improve your app, but just a few more settings options, one or two more themes, and lyrics support would be a huge improvement without having to sacrifice your clean, simple interface.
The cloud library storage service:
- Make our libraries available to third-party players! Many people have their preferred music players and, while your Play Music app is competitive and could be much more so, many users will simply not want to switch. Just to name one example, there are quite a few people in the Poweramp forums begging for Google Music library support because Poweramp2 is their favorite player, but they don’t want to have to be limited to transferring a few playlists to their phones and/or consuming their SD cards with music files.
- If the major music labels make a big stink about this, remind them that people already have the ability to store thousands of unprotected mp3s online, and allowing third-party players to access peoples’ Google Music libraries is not going to lead to an explosion of piracy and file-sharing in the vein of Limewire and 1990s-Napster. While you’re at it, you might also remind these executives that they need another viable alternative to iTunes to sell their music, so Apple won’t wield the same leverage over them that they do now. Allowing third-party players to access Google Music cloud libraries would give you another huge advantage over iTunes/DoubleTwist/iTunes Sync. This issue will be covered in more detail in the next article in this series.
The Play Store:
- Open your store to more countries! It appears that you are already working toward this end, but you are moving very slowly, according to recent reports. Obviously there are many other factors at play when considering other markets to offer Play Store access to, as well as various population demographics that make some markets more viable than others, but here’s a raw breakdown that even these other factors can’t entirely negate: about 300 million people live in the U.S., while more than 6,700 million people live in the rest of the world. If only one percent of non-U.S. residents had access to your Play Store, your customer base would more than double.
- Guess what the most popular site for sharing music recommendations is other than Facebook? That’s right - you already own it! YouTube is the most popular site in the world for sharing music recommendations via Twitter and other non-facial social networks. Google+ is not. Please provide a Play Store link for all the official music videos in your YouTube catalog for which music is available for purchase. Your revenues would multiply over what they are now. In fact, you could stand to have your Play Music app return the favor by providing users a link to a YouTube video of whatever song they are currently listening to. How many other music player apps do that?
- You’re far and away the most popular search engine in the world. Your entire multibillion-dollar business revolves around advertising. Use your biggest strengths to bridge the gap between you and Apple, Amazon, Rhapsody and Spotify.
These suggestions will by no means require drastic overhauls in Google’s organization structure (just tell the YouTube guys to play nice with the Android guys, okthx), neither will they require committing hundreds of millions of dollars in resources to implement. And yet, if implemented, they would pay off hundreds of times over, in my opinion. As previously stated, efforts are already underway to give Android users the ability to use third-party players to access their Google Music libraries. Stay tuned to find out the latest developments on that front.