Google Announces New Music, Movie Rental Services

As part of its annual developer-oriented Google I/O conference on Tuesday, Google announced new music and movie rental services for its Android mobile OS. Both services are fairly basic, however, and—in the case of the former service—leave an obvious opening for Apple to swoop in with a far more comprehensive solution.

The new Music Beta by Google is available only in a limited, invitation-only version for now, Google says, but it's pretty clear that the company rushed to get it to market. Google had been in unsuccessful talks with the balky and still-clueless music industry for several months and, according to sources, was unable to achieve the licensing it needed to turn Google Music into a more impressive service. So the initial version is simply Google's version of Amazon Cloud Storage and Cloud Player, which were released to the public in late March.

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What that means is that Google Music provides only basic cloud storage functionality as well as remote-playback and playlist-management features via a web interface or Android app. Users are forced to upload their entire music collection to Google's service to access this functionality—a process that could take days for larger collections.

Apple, meanwhile, has been working with the music industry and is expected to release its own cloud-based music service sometime this year. If Apple is able to obtain the necessary licensing—and its years-long relationships courtesy of iTunes suggests that could be the case—it would give the company an important advantage over Google Music and Amazon's services. That is, it's possible that iTunes could scan your music collection locally and then simply provide you with access to the same music online, from any iOS-based device or PC or Mac, without requiring you to upload it and manage it separately.

This is theoretical right now, and it's possible that the ever-out-to-lunch music industry will simply deny Apple this capability out of a desire to be paid a per-play or per-song fee. But according to sources close to Google, this is exactly the kind of capability Google built into its Music service. And it's not there now only because of onerous music industry licensing requirements.

Google also launched a movie rental service on Tuesday. Like Google Music, this service is somewhat limited in scope: It's aimed only at Android-based smartphones and tablets, though it's possible to view rented content via a PC-based web browser as well. Movie purchases and TV shows aren't available. And it's unclear how or whether this functionality is separate and different from a similar movie rental service that recently launched on YouTube (also owned by Google).

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Movie rental prices and terms via Google seem to follow a now-traditional trajectory, with rentals costing $1.99 and up ($3.99 for most new movies); you have 30 days to begin watching a rented movie and then 24 hours to complete watching it once it's been started. The service appears to be US-only for now.

Selection, too, is very limited. The service identifies only seven film categories, and Google says there are "thousands" of movies available. But a quick look through the library shows just under 2,200 actual movies—far below the 8,000+ movie rentals and 12,000+ movie purchases available on Apple's iTunes service. And it's unclear whether various quality levels (HD, standard definition) and captioning are available on the Google service.

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