Why Google Music's stuck on repeat

Forrester Research

At Google I/O, the company managed to impress on a lot of fronts, enough that its stock began to climb as investors realised that Google is keeping up with – and in some cases staying in front of – its digital platform competitors Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft. The new developer tools and resources announced will certainly lead to better apps, developed more quickly, capable of generating more revenue. And consumer experiences in mobile, Google Maps, and in the browser are about to get significantly more useful and elegant.

But one announcement debuted at I/O that didn’t move the needle for Google – at least not as much as it could have – is the Google Play Music All Access pass. Despite the convoluted moniker, the service is straightforward: pay $US9.99 a month (in the US for now, more countries to come) and you’ll have unlimited access to a cloud-based music library with intuitive features that allow elegant discovery, consumption, and sharing of music.

If it sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The service can’t differentiate on its music library because the best it can do is license the same library that Spotify and Rdio already offer. All Access also creates playlists for you based on your music tastes as expressed by you directly or learned from your listening patterns and friends. That should also sound familiar because the same value is contained to various degrees in Pandora, iTunes and Amazon Cloud Player.

Bottom line: despite working really hard, the best that Google can do in music is to catch up to everybody else in the field. And that’s precisely what the company has done.

To be clear, music is one of the most powerful tools for engaging digital consumers because they use it every day and connect to it emotionally and socially. If Google failed to make a play for the music business, it would later regret it because its customers would remain forever tied to another digital service that could ultimately open a vulnerability in the company’s relationship with hundreds of millions of Android and Chrome users. The fear of ceding this permanent vulnerability to others explains why Google Play is adding All Access.

If only the company had reached beyond simply catching up to existing music players. Google’s PC, phone, and tablet based customer relationship puts it in a unique position to reach for a blended media subscription experience, something that expands the very notion of what media is and how people believe they’re paying for it. Imagine $US24.99 a month for all-access music, Netflix-like streaming, two current movie downloads, and a lending library for paid games where you can 'check out' one paid game for free for one week at a time. That would be a way to make Google Play media content do more than merely copy iTunes, Pandora, and Spotify, it would take media consumption beyond the reach of Netflix, Amazon, and anyone else. But evidently Google wasn’t ready to reach for the real prize.

Other companies can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief. To find that even one of the most digitally disruptive players in the world is not able to muster the right level of response when entering an industry as crucial as music gives everyone else tacit permission to stumble along for a bit. But make no mistake, the overall confidence in Google emerging from the event is high with good reason. Because even though Google didn’t reach far enough here, on balance the company has successfully moved just about every other ball it’s carrying forward at I/O. Maybe we’ll have to wait for next year to see it do the same thing with music and media.

James McQuivey, PhD, is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research and the author of the book Digital Disruption. This article was originally published on the Forrester Blog Network. Republished with permission.

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