Google Launches Music App With a Wink to iTunes Competition

Updated. Google (s GOOG) officially tossed its hat into the music ring in a big way on Tuesday, with the beta debut of its highly anticipated cloud-based music player, “Music beta by Google.” Product manager Paul Joyce unveiled Music during the opening keynote at the Google I/O Developer conference in San Francisco.

Users can upload any music file they own — from iTunes (s aapl) libraries, Windows Media Player (s msft), or file folders — to Music. Music stores all the songs, albums and playlists completely in the cloud, so with the Music Android application, a user’s Google music library is automatically synced across all of his or her devices. The app automatically caches the most recently listened-to songs so they can be accessed without an Internet connection.

The app is currently available by invitation only to users in the U.S., Joyce said, and will be free for as long as it’s in beta. The company did not give any further information on any future pricing plans.

Although the Music application stores music and doesn’t sell it, Tuesday’s launch still puts Google more directly into a space currently dominated by Apple. Joyce acknowledged the competition during his keynote presentation with a hint of snark, referring to Google Music’s “Instant Mix” playlist-creating feature as a “truly ingenious” feature– an obvious wink to iTunes’ “Genius” automatic playlist creator.

Update: Android Director of Digital Content Jamie Rosenberg said during a press conference following the keynote that Google wants to eventually sell music through the platform as well. However, negotiations with some of the major labels broke down because of “terms that we felt were unreasonable and unsustainable.” He denied that Google is going to become a target of music industry lawsuits with its locker service. “What we launched today is a completely legal service,” said Rosenberg.

Additional reporting by Janko Roettgers.