Apple could see the most significant iTunes challenger emerge as early as October say music industry sources. Google's music store may not be just about Android.
Greg SandovalFormer Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
With the iTunes' banner waving supremely over the digital music landscape, Google continues to build its own music service, CNET has learned.
According to multiple music industry sources, Google could launch a music service that offers song downloads and streaming music as early as this fall.
Google has already signaled that it wishes to give users of phones equipped with Google's Android operating system a better music offering. At Google's I/O conference last month, the search engine offered attendees a demonstration of a Web-based iTunes competitor. Also TechCrunch reported two weeks ago that it discovered a "Google Music" logo hosted on Google's domain.
But Google's plans go beyond Android, say music sector insiders. CNET has learned that Google first stoked excitement among executives at some of the top four major labels during the Consumer Electronics Show in January. That's where they revealed some of the features that a Google music store might include, such as tying digital downloads and streaming music to Google's search results.
Google did not respond to interview requests.
Google knows music
Google first tried wedding songs to search last fall. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company launched Music Onebox and enabled people searching for song titles to stream the tunes via online music stores Lala.com and iLike. The experiment seemed to be derailed after those companies were acquired by competitors; Apple and MySpace respectively.
A Google-backed challenge to Apple's dominance of legal online music sales would be warmly welcomed by the top labels. They have tried for years to convince heavy hitters such as Google, Facebook, and AOL to take on iTunes.
The other top digital music stores, Amazon and MySpace Music, have yet to cut into Apple's huge market share. Those two big names, however, don't possess Google's reach with Web consumers.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt can already boast some success in music with YouTube. Before three of the four top labels launched Vevo and took control of their videos, YouTube was by far the Web's most successful streaming music service. Zahavah Levine, YouTube's general counsel who previously worked with RealNetworks' Rhapsody music subscription service, has a prominent role in helping to develop Google's new music store, the sources said.
The other piece of Google's music puzzle is software company Simplify Media, which Google acquired earlier this year after kicking the tires on several cloud-based media services. Simplify enabled PC and Mac users to stream songs from their computer-based iTunes or WinAmp libraries to other Web-enabled devices. Vic Gundotra, a Google engineering exec, said during I/O that Google would build Simplify Media's technology into a future version of the Android OS and thereby boost Android's music features.
Google is racing iTunes to be first with a cloud service. Sources in the music and movie sectors have said Apple is working on a Web-based iTunes service that could enable users to store music and video on digital shelves and then stream the content to Web-enabled devices.
So, while Apple works on a cloud service, CEO Steve Jobs might be surprised to find Google has begun serenading iTunes users.