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Google launches cloud-based streaming music app

Google announced today that it is going head-to-head with Amazon Cloud Drive Player, launching an online music locker service that allows users to store and access their songs wherever they are.

Music Beta by Google was announced today by senior product manager Paul Joyce at the Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco.

The new service is designed to allow users to store up to 20,000 tracks they already own online, and access them via a dedicated browser from any device - smartphone, tablet or PC - searching by song, artist and genre and compiling playlists by click-and-drag. There's even an 'Instant Mix' feature, which automatically suggests a playlist based on a track of a user's choosing.

"Your music collection is stored in the cloud," Joyce told a crowd of enthusiastic developers, "so you can stop worrying about where your tracks are, and start enjoying your music."

The service also caches recently played tracks locally on the device, enabling users to enjoy them even when they had no access to the cloud, Joyce said.

The benefit, said Joyce, was that users would "never have to use a cable to add music again" - and when users swapped phone or tablet, access would immediately switch over when they sign in to the new device.

Like Amazon's Cloud Drive Player, the 'Music Beta by Google' service is going ahead without the support of major music labels, having failed to reach agreement after months of negotiations.

A storm of controversy followed the introduction of Amazon's Cloud Drive, with Vivendi Universal, Sony Music, Warner Music and EMI accusing the service of infringing copyright. Since the launch, Amazon execs have met with label bosses to thrash out a more deal for more comprehensive services.

Feathers appear to have been ruffled in the run-up to today's announcement. According to a report from news agency Reuters, sources in the music industry had "privately expressed concern" about the launch - but said that they hoped Google would continue to negotiate over more advanced features.

Money talks, it seems - and record companies can scarcely ignore the potential market unleashed by the best-selling mobile platform on the planet. Product management director Hugo Barra announced in his I/O 2011 keynote speech that more than 100 million Android devices have now been activated worldwide, with another 400,000 new activations each day.

Today's move is also shrewd one for Google, from the point of view of the search giant's mobile operating system, Android. It will awllow the OS to take the fight to major rival Apple, whose iTunes service provides a portal to both apps and music on its iOS platform.

With an estimated 200 million existing iTunes users worldwide, Apple's negotiations to launch a cloud-based streaming service have met with a more positive reception from the music industry.

"If Apple launches a legitimate licensed cloud service and Google launches a dumb locker there's no question who will be the winner again," one anonymous executive told Reuters.

Available on Windows and as an app for Android 2.2 or higher, Music Beta by Google begins rolling out in the US by invitation only from today. The service will be free "at least while it's in Beta", says Google.