Google's new on-demand subscription service, given the unfortunate name Google Play Music All Access, could one day be something special, but on launch day only does the bare minimum. The $9.99-per-month service -- $7.99 for a limited time and available for a free 30-day trial -- has the basic features one would expect and doesn't separate itself from the crowd.
Google has the advantage of plugging Google Play Music All Access into its massive user base. In March, 192 million U.S. web users visited Google sites and Google's Android operating system accounted for 52% of the 137 million smartphones in the U.S., according to comScore. Scale matters in digital music, and few companies have the potential to scale their entertainment products to the degree Google can.
But, at first blush, Google Play Music All Access does little to impress. It has the standard features one expects: access to an on-demand catalog, recommendations based on one's collection, lists of top albums and tracks, and genre and sub-genre pages with featured playlists, top albums, key albums and new releases. Users get minimal biographical and album information. Overall, the service feels dry and automated.
The current trend in on-demand music is curation, discovery and context. Spotify's recent purchase of Tunigo will improve the service's discovery. Rhapsody has always used editorial to help guide its subscribers through its massive catalog. Beats Music's upcoming service is expected to focus heavily on curation. "Subscription needs a programmer," Beats CEO Jimmy Iovine told All Things D. "It needs culture."
Pricing is another area where Google differs from its competitors. Most on-demand services offer a web tier for $4.99 and a mobile-plus-web tier for $9.99. Google Play Music All Access offers mobile and web access for $9.99 but does not offer a web-only tier.
Fortunately for Google, the mobile experience outshines the web experience. Since Google also operates its music store at Google Play, it's integral that Google Play Music All Access integrate the two services in a sensible way. The "Play Music" app does a good job combining a user's cloud-based Google Music collection with the on-demand catalog alleviating confusion of which song or album comes from which service.
Although the radio function will not pose a threat to Pandora or other single-purpose Internet radio services, it does have some strengths. The playlists are more than adequate. The service learns from users' "thumb up" and "thumb down" ratings. And because it is not limited by the rules that shape statutory services, the service allows for unlimited song skipping as well as skipping within songs.
Ultimately, the new service is a play to augment the Google ecosystem of websites, mobile apps, hardware and cloud-based storage. Since Google decided to build rather than buy, Google Play Music All Access needs to evolve over time in order to better compete with existing services. It has the resources to bring millions of new consumers into the digital marketplace, but it needs the right product. The Google Play Music All Access launched Wednesday is not that product.