Google introduced its entry into the on-demand music streaming market at its recent developer conference Google I/O. Sitting atop its existing Google Play media store, the awkwardly named Google Play All Access provides Spotify-like listening to a large music library, along with the ability to build playlists or tune in to artist-based radio stations.
Unlike many other Google services, All Access carries a fee of $9.99 a month without ads, with a limited $7.99 monthly rate available to customers who sign up now. A 30-day free trial is also available, which I signed up for so that I could audition the service this week. This single rate gives full access to the service on mobile devices as well as the desktop browser. By comparison Spotify’s ad free unlimited service is $4.99 a month, or $9.99 a month for mobile access.
Anyone who has used a service like Spotify, Rdio or Rhapsody will find All Access familiar. On a personal computer it functions through your browser–unlike Spotify–or through an app on an Android device. Although Google has not released an iOS app, an unofficial app is already available in the iTunes store.
At first listen I found the sound quality to be quite good. I’m presuming that All Access serves up the same 320 kbps MP3 files that can be purchased from the Play store. This is a higher bitrate and quality than available with a free Spotify account, but roughly equivalent to the quality heard with a paid Spotify account. However, aside from the free 30-day trial, Google does not offer an ad-supported free version like Spotify does.
Presumably because Google has been able to strike slightly different deals with music labels, I’ve found some slight differences between the library of music found in All Access compared to Spotify, but the overall coverage is about the same. While Google also sells MP3s in its play store, not every artist or album available for sale is also represented in the All Access streaming library.
Like Spotify, Google’s All Access offers radio streams that pick tracks based upon a seed artist or genre. In my experience I still think Pandora is the standard bearer in terms of serving up a wider variety of consonant artists and songs based upon your initial selections.
But one thing I like about the All Access approach to radio is that once you select a station it shows you the queue of about 20 upcoming tracks, giving you an idea of what artists and songs are next. You can even rearrange or remove tracks from the queue. Google can offer this additional level of control because All Access is an on-demand service, with different contracts and royalties than Pandora, which is statutorily limited in the user control it may offer without having to strike individual deals with record labels. This also means that Pandora offers a deeper library of music, but without the instant playability of All Access, Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody and MOG.
The All Access user interface is a little less intuitive than Spotify’s and other services’. Like many other Google services it is clean if indistinctive. On several occasions it took me some searching to navigate back and forth. In particular, I haven’t quite figured out the direct URL for the All Access service itself. The only reliable way in I’ve found is to go to the Google Play homepage and click on the banner ad offering up an All Access trial, and then clicking on “Try free for 30 days” button on that next page. It’s the same route I used to sign up in the first place. But if I’m already logged in with my Google account, I’m then routed to the All Access interface.
In the crowded on demand music service field there’s not a lot to differentiate All Access from competitors like Spotify or Rdio. I suppose there’s an advantage for someone already invested in the Google Play universe, since Google offers free cloud storage and streaming of 20,000 songs alongside unlimited storage for any music purchased from the Play store. This seems particularly useful for Android smartphone users who can then listen to their personal cloud library alongside All Access music, playlists and radio through a single app.
However, for someone who isn’t already invested in the Google Play universe, or who doesn’t have an Android smartphone, I don’t see any strong argument for choosing All Access over another service. In particular, I don’t really see a reason why a paid Spotify or Rhapsody user should switch, unless she wants to lock in the $7.99 introductory rate and save a couple of bucks a month, at the cost of losing playlists and stations saved in the previous service.
My guess is that Google sees plenty of room for growth in the on demand music market, with the opportunity to entice many new customers by virtue of the company’s ubiquity. There’s plenty of speculation that it’s just a matter of time before Apple and Amazon jump in with their own on demand services to complement their much more prominent online music stores.
It will be entertaining to see if any company offers up a true Spotify-killer, or a feature that is particularly new or innovative. In the meantime I’m not ready to hand over my monthly fee to anyone just yet.