Music Beta is Googles new cloud-streaming music service. It lets you to upload all your music files (up to 20,000) to Googles servers and then lets you stream them wherever you are through a web-interface or to your Android phone. It’s US-only at the moment (( That is to say it works outside of the USA, but you have to be in the USA when you request an invite )).
How it works
There are two ways to access your music once you’ve uploaded it all: via the Android app and the web-interface.
The Android app allows you to “pin” music for offline availability. This will ensure the album of your choice is cached for offline use. This is a very Google thing to do — your stuff is in the cloud, everything simply accesses it from there. You could call this Wi-Fi sync for your music, but it’s better: all the music you want offline you pin until you no longer want it. It works wonderfully.
The web-interface does not at the moment support offline caching. No doubt Google will implement this feature once the kinks get worked out of the HTML5 local storage feature, but for the time being you can only stream from there.
The web-interface works remarkably well. It’s responsive, easy to use, searchable and music plays excellently in full quality with no noticable delay between tracks. I find it a breeze to use compared to iTunes (( Disclaimer: I have an extreme bias against iTunes )). If you’re a Chrome user, you’ll also want the Better Music Beta extension for easy play/pause controls and hook-ups with Last.fm (it has has revived my account there). I’m also told the web-interface works on the iPhone (without the pinning/caching feature, obviously), though I haven’t been able to verify this.
So why would you want your music in the cloud? Isn’t it easier and faster to have it stored locally? And what about streaming it to the phone, that’s gotta be expensive on 3G!? The answer is that you want Google Music because you want one central location to store all music. One canonical archive from which all your devices access your stuff. Music over 3G is not going to be a problem in the future, and until then — if you’re on Android — the pinning feature will make sure that’s not a problem. It just works.
Except of course, for the elephant in the room.
Google did not manage to get the music labels approval. So there’s no music store. You’ll still have to rip your CDs, buy your music from Amazon or iTunes and then upload it. There’s also no convenient “matching” service, which would fingerprint your MP3 files or your CDs and let you skip the upload (( It does bear mentioning that the uploader works very well. It sits in the background and eventually it’s done. In “weeks”, as they say, but if you forget it, and chances are you will, then it’s not much of a bother )), instead granting you access to an existing copy.
It’s a weird situation. I’ve yearned for a service just like this for years. One I could upload my music to — the music I’ve amassed on hundreds of CDs over the years. But now that I have it, it almost feels dated already. To make matters worse, I’m not sure a music store and a fingerprinting service would’ve improved the situation. In fact, my gut tells me the future is in streaming all-you-can-eat, i.e. what Rdio does. What’s so great about owning stuff anyway?
Wait. Let’s back up. Music Beta is awesome. There’s a hump you have to get over in uploading, and at the moment it works best if you’re an Android user. You also still have to buy your music elsewhere. But what Music Beta is, is distilled awesome. I totally love this thing, and the only reason it doesn’t get 6 hearts is because the music industry stole a heart. Hey music industry, I’m right here. I have money. I want to give it to you. Why won’t you let me?