Using Google’s new music store with Apple hardware

Once the Google Music (s goog) store in the Android Market went live, I made my first Android Market music purchase. Not from an Android device and not from a Chrome browser but from Safari (s aapl) running on my iPhone. Then I decided to use all the Apple products I love but to replace iTunes Match and iTunes Music Store with Google Music. Here’s how it went.

Shopping Android’s Music Market from mobile Safari

One great thing about Google’s cloud strategy is that it is primarily browser-based. While this has many shortcomings when it comes to offline access, bandwidth and overall performance, it means I can access the Android Market for Music directly from Safari running on my iOS devices.
Unfortunately, I get sent to the full desktop site, which is less than ideal but still usable. Luckily the Android Market is set up to use Google Payments (makes sense), which I have had set up for some time now. While I was able to complete the transaction despite navigation issues, it was not a process I’m eager to repeat.

From Google Music in the cloud to Apple TV in the living room

One of the most convenient features of the iTunes experience is that no matter where you purchase your music, it will be instantly available on any iOS, Mac or Windows device with iCloud. I hoped that Google Music might be able to replicate that experience, so first I wanted to see if I could get music to play back on my Apple TV.
At first I thought it would be as easy as using Google’s Music Player in Safari to stream directly to my Apple TV using AirPlay. Unfortunately this didn’t work. The way Google has implemented its mobile web player seems to have inhibited my ability to use AirPlay on mobile Safari.

Instead, I decided to route music through iTunes first. I had already been uploading music from my Mac into Google’s Music Player in the cloud, so I assumed that it would be just as easy to download music, and it was. Google has updated its Music Manager on Macs to download purchased music as well as upload your preexisting music library. Once the album was on my Mac, I imported the music into iTunes, but I had to do this manually. It seems as if Google could have learned a thing or two from Amazon in this regard, as purchases from Amazon’s MP3 store can be automatically added to my iTunes library without any manual intervention. Once the music was in iTunes, I was all set to play back on my Apple TV via AirPlay.

Listening to Google Music on an iOS device

It took quite some time before the music I purchased was viewable via the mobile web version of the Google Music Player on my iPhone. What surprised me was that unlike in the web player, the music was almost instantly accessible when using Google’s Music service through the native iOS app gMusic.
GMusic is actually a great player: The interface is almost identical to that of the native Android music player, and it is very similar to Apple’s own Music App. The best part is that gPlus fully supports multitasking playback as well as AirPlay directly from your iOS device. If you are looking to switch from iTunes to Google for buying music and all you care about is playing it back on your iPhone, then this is the app to get.

Overall experience: not a better mousetrap

I don’t think that I will be abandoning iTunes anytime soon for Google’s new Music Store. That’s not surprising, since iTunes is tied so closely to iOS and Mac devices, but what is surprising is that to do exactly the same thing using an Android smartphone leaves you with a very similar experience.
What this experiment indicates to me is that Google thinks the smartphone is the central locus of most people’s music lives. Over the past ten years, Apple has expanded the reaches of its iTunes experience through iPod docks, car kits and AirPlay to help spread your music to anywhere you could hope to listen, and Google has a ways to go before it can match that level of maturity.