Google has this evening officially launched its new iTunes-rivalling Music service in Los Angeles.
Given the "explosive growth of the Android ecosystem", with more than 200 million Android devices now activated worldwide (that's doubled since May 2011), Google has decided the time is right to bring a fully-fledged version of its Music Beta by Google service to US customers.
Sadly, there's no news yet on when it will be rolled out in the UK and elsewhere. But for our US cousins, they get free access to music.google.com from tonight.
They'll be able to store up to 20,000 songs in the cloud, and stream them to any Android device – for no fee.
"Other services think you have to pay to play music you own – we don't," says Google. A clear swipe at Apple's iTunes Match.
Three of the five big record labels have signed up to Google Music: EMI, Universal Music and Sony Music Entertainment. But not Warner Music.
There's a new version of Music Manager which allows you to import your iTunes and other music libraries, and then play them on your PC, Android smartphone or tablet.
Integrated with Android Market
Google Music is integrated with Android Market, so just like iTunes you can buy millions of songs too, typically priced at 99 cents. You get a 90 second preview of each song before buying, and get this – all songs will be downloaded as 320kbps MP3 files. That beats iTunes' 256kbps, albeit in AAC.
There's also YouTube integration, so if you hear a song on it you like, you can buy the same song through Google Music.
Other neat features include staff picks, recommendations of other artists you might like, plus personal recommendations based on your own music collection.
You can share any track you buy on Google+; do so, and friends or acquaintances in your circle will get one free play of the same song.
Every day on Google Music you'll get one free song "to help jump start your collection", and there'll be a spotlight on different artists, plus video interviews.
Exclusive free tracks being made available include six from the Rolling Stones (one now, the rest in 2012), plus music from Coldplay, Busta Rhymes (his new album will debut exclusively on Google Music), Shakira, Pearl Jam and the Dave Matthews Band.
To access the service, you'll need to be running Android 2.2 and the latest version of Android Market. There's also an updated web player and apps.
And any budding musicians out there will be able to sign up to the Google Music Artist Hub for a one-off fee of $25. This allows bands to build their own artist's page, upload their songs, set their own prices and sell them on Android Market, keeping 70% of the revenue.
Published 10am 16.11.11
Google is today set to announce an update to its Music service promising a store to rival Apple's iTunes as well as a cloud-based storage service.
While Google is remaining tight-lipped, rumours suggest licensing deals have been done with three of the four major music labels to sell music.
This music store would work alongside the cloud-based locker for your own personal music collection, which Google launched in beta mode earlier this year.
Google Music is rumoured to link heavily with Google+, allowing users to freely share a limited number of tracks with friends.
Apple's iTunes Store has been the dominant digital music outlet for some time now, and Apple has its own plans for cloud storage of your music library with iCloud and Music Match.
We're expecting more news on Google Music later today.