After months of anticipation and a limited beta release, Google finally released its cloud-based music offering, Google Music.
Google Music users located in the United States can employ the Android Market to purchase songs and albums, and can also upload existing Apple iTunes playlists to their accounts. And Google is placing a strong emphasis on its music sharing features.
Google Music joins a number of big players already in the online music arena, including iTunes and Spotify. Another competitor: Amazon Cloud Player, which debuted this spring and with features similar to Google's offering.
Here's a quick look at how the two stack up in terms of price, accessibility, sharing and quality.
Google vs. Amazon: Price Comparison
Google Music lets Google account holders upload as many as 20,000 songs from their personal music collections (such as iTunes), and--for now--users can host an unlimited library of music purchased from the Android Marketplace.
Purchasing music from the Android Marketplace requires a Google Wallet account--Google Wallet is the company's online payment service--and individual songs cost between 99 cents and $1.29. Google Wallet is a virtual way to store your payment cards, offers and more on your phone and online.
The Amazon Cloud Drive, and associated Cloud Player, launched last spring, and the service gives Amazon account holders 5 GB of free storage, which can hold up to 1,000 songs. The Amazon Cloud Drive can also store photos and videos.
Storage upgrades start at $20 per year for an extra 15 GB--which also qualifies users for unlimited Cloud Drive song storage--and is capped at $1,000 a year for 1,000 GB of storage. Purchasing individual songs from Amazon.com generally costs between 99 cents and $1.29, which is also inline with Apple's iTunes music store.
Google vs. Amazon: Music Accessibility and System Requirements
Google Music users can also access their libraries on Android devices via the Google Music application, though the app requires Android 2.2 or above with OpenGL2.0. And Apple devices running iOS 4.0 or higher can access the Google Music player by visiting music.google.com in a Web browser.
Amazon Cloud Player is a browser-based application that supports Mac and PC computers and iPad devices. It is not optimized to run on some mobile phones or tablets, including iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Windows Mobile devices.
Users can access the Cloud Player from their computer by clicking on any track in the Cloud Drive or via Android devices using the Amazon MP3 for Android app. Amazon Cloud Drive also restricts access to up to eight devices, which includes mobile devices, different computers and different browsers on the same computer.
Google Music offers more flexibility in accessing music--particularly on the mobile front--while Amazon's Cloud Player is more restrictive.
Google vs. Amazon: Sharing Music
Google is placing a strong emphasis on sharing with Google Music.
Users can share any song added from the Android Market (whether free or purchased music) to Google+ Circles in four ways: while browsing Android Market Music content on an Android device; while browsing market.android.com/music; from the "Free and Purchased" playlist on music.google.com; or from the "Free and Purchased" playlist in the Music application on an Android device.
Albums can be shared from the Android Market on your Android device or immediately after making a purchase from market.android.com/music.
When a user shares songs or albums on Google+, that person's followers can listen to the entire song or album from within Google+.
Amazon, on the other hand, has no music-sharing capabilities.
Google's music sharing capability is clearly an effort to draw more people to Google+--whether the sharing features are a perk to Google Music users (or Google+ users) remains to be seen, however regardless, it is entirely optional.
Google vs. Amazon: Quality of Music
Songs sold from Google Music are in DRM-free MP3 format and are encoded at 320 kilobits per second (Kbps). Amazon's MP3s are also DRM-free and are encoded at a slightly lower rate of 256Kbps.
While neither option is ideal for the true audiophile who desires the highest sound quality available, Google Music does offer audio quality that's slightly better than Amazon's music.
Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org