Google to take on iTunes with Simplify Media buy

Simplify's technology, which let users stream music from their PCs over the Internet to their phones, will be built into a future version of Android.

Matt Rosoff
Matt Rosoff is an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, where he covers Microsoft's consumer products and corporate news. He's written about the technology industry since 1995, and reviewed the first Rio MP3 player for CNET.com in 1998. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network. Disclosure. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattrosoff.
Matt Rosoff
2 min read

One of the most interesting bits of news to come out of today's Google I/O conference was the company's stealth acquisition of Simplify Media a couple months ago.

Until March of this year, Simplify offered a free software application for PC and Mac that let users stream music from the iTunes or WinAmp libraries on their home computer, over the Internet, to other devices they own. The company also made an iPhone app that let the iPhone or iPod Touch receive these streams.

It was a nifty solution for users with big music libraries at home and limited storage space on their phones. But in March, Simplify abruptly stopped offering these products, and now we know why: Google had its own plans for the company.

On Thursday, Google engineering Vice President Vic Gundotra said Google would begin offering a desktop app based on Simplify Media's technology, building the receiving technology into a future version of the Android OS. This is a quick and clever way for Google to bolster Android's music capabilities.

I had wondered if Google might buy a company like Melodeo or MP3Tunes, which let users back their music collections up to the cloud, then stream those songs from the cloud to their phones. In fact, another competitor in this space, MSpot, just announced its music locker and corresponding Android app at the Google I/O conference on Wednesday. But the big record labels aren't too fond of music lockers: they've tried to sue MP3Tunes out of existence, and Apple reportedly ran into resistance when it floated the idea of launching a music-locker service based on its 2009 acquisition of Lala.

By using Simplify instead, Google stays out of the legal quicksand--it doesn't have to store any music on its servers. The drawback of the Simplify approach is that the user's home computer has to be turned on in order for the streaming to work.

But the Simplify acquisition may be only the beginning. Gundotra also showed a new version of the online Android marketplace, with a Music link to download songs. It was just a demo--no deals with content owners have been signed yet--but the message was clear: iTunes, watch your back.