Blame it on Apple’s non-negotiable 30 percent commission, but Google Play Music, now available as a free iPhone/iPod touch app, is missing two crucial features: the ability to shop for and purchase music; and to sign up for its $10/monthly All Access Plan. (You can do both using Google Play Music on an Android device or through the Google Play Music website in any browser, including the iOS Safari.)
You can’t even sample tunes in the iOS app. In fact, if you’ve never purchased music from Google before, the Google Play Music app on iOS, once installed, will be completely empty. It’s an odd experience — like showing up at a party with no one else there.
Not surprisingly, Google wouldn’t want to give its competitor Apple a 30 percent cut on every track it sells via iOS. And to be fair, you can’t buy songs through the Amazon Cloud Player iOS app, either. You can, or course, use a browser to purchase content in both Google's and Amazon's stores and then listen via the iOS apps.
Depending upon your perspective, this is either an advantage or a disadvantage. If you’re the type who frequently and impulsively buys songs after the usual 30-second iTunes sample and then sometimes regrets it, Google Play Music’s lack of e-commerce impulsivity might be a good thing. On the other hand, having to open up a browser to purchase a song can be a turnoff.
I fall into the latter camp. So I doubt I’ll be a big Google Play Music user.
So who’s the real target user? If you’re an Android owner who’s purchased lots of tracks from Google but want to switch to iOS, Google Play Music is what you’ve been waiting for.
Google Play Music for iPhone/iPod touch has other benefits compared to its closest competitors iTunes/iTunes Radio and Amazon Cloud Player. If you subscribe to the All Access service, you get about 20 million songs you can either stream or download (at no extra cost) to your iDevice. (FYI, iTunes has more than 28 million songs, and Amazon’s music service also has about 20 million.) Once you end your subscription, of course, the songs vanish from your device. The advantage: Using Google Play Music, you can download lots of songs and play them to your heart's content, without actually having to purchase them or stream them. With iTunes Radio in the iOS Music App, you either stream the music—which can put a hit on your cellular carrier's data plan, if you listen to music while exercising outside—or you buy the songs outright.
With All Access, Google algorithms help you discover new music you might like, based on music you own and listen to. You can make playlists or listen to those created by Google music experts. But other services do this as well.
I like the look of Google Play Music, and it’s easy to use. But the iOS app made me feel like a visitor to another land — with a restricted pass.