Some major announcements were made at the Google I/O conference today. The announcement of Ice Cream Sandwich is the major headline, but surrounding the it were some important smaller reveals of new music and movie services for the Android platform.
With Music Beta and movie rentals in the Android Market, Google has made two huge strides forward in the availability of media on the Android platform. It has also made its smartphone and tablet platform more competitive with Apple’s iPhone and iPad.
Music Beta — Google Has Its Head in the Cloud
The first major media announcement of the day was that Google is launching its own cloud-based music service called, logically enough, Music Beta by Google.
With this service, users will be able to upload their music library to servers on the Internet and have full access to all of their songs without filling up their mobile devices’ storage. Smartphones and tablets with Flash support (read: not Apple products) and Internet access will be able to use Music Beta.
Google’s service is in direct competition with the Amazon Cloud Player, and Google is raising the bar by offering a 20,000-song capacity, significantly more than the 5 GB (approx. 1,000 songs) the Amazon Cloud Player offers in its free version.
In Music Beta, in addition to listening to music, users will be able to manage their collection from their mobile devices, and could, for example, create a playlist on their phone or tablet that would then be available later on their PC. Additionally, users can choose a certain selection of songs to be available offline, and Google will also automatically cache recently played songs, just in case someone gets caught without Wi-Fi or a data connection.
Google was unable to gain support from record labels, meaning that many unique opportunities presented by cloud music services will still not become available. Because of licensing issues and this lack of cooperation, Google cannot allow users to share songs with friends, let users purchase music directly in the cloud, or provide an online library of songs (as opposed to users having to upload all of their music).
Who Needs Netflix? Rent Movies in the Android Market
The other major media-related announcement from Google today was that it will begin offering movie rentals in the Android Market. Similar to Music Beta, Android Market movie rentals can be streamed from the cloud, giving users a uniquely mobile way to view titles, whether on a handset or tablet.
Rental prices start at $1.99, but the large majority of titles seem to cost $3.99. This buys a user a 30-day movie rental; however as soon as one starts viewing a movie, there is a 24-hour window before the rental expires.
Also like Music Beta, the Android Market movie rental service will provide users with access to their rented movies even if they can’t reach an Internet connection. Through a process called “pinning,” users can temporarily download a title locally, allowing for Internet-free viewing.
Release and Availability
Music Beta is available today, but only via invitation only, and only in the United States. Attendees at the Google I/O Conference and owners of the 3G-enabled Motorola Xoom from Verizon are the very first to gain access to the service, as both groups are receiving automatic invites. Other Android users can sign up for an invitation request at music.google.com/about.
Movie rentals will also first be available to Xoom users, and will be an integrated part of the tablet operating system Android OS 3.1. Android smartphone users can expect availability sometime in the next few weeks, with devices running Android 2.2 (Froyo) and up supported.