Google launches Google Music in the US

Google launches a free, cloud-based music streaming service with social sharing features. Watch out, Spotify

Google has finally launched its long-awaited Google Music store, gunning for the likes of Spotify and Apple's iTunes Match service. Pics of the mobile Google Music store running on an Android phone have already leaked, so the features list isn't entirely surprising – but there's still plenty to get excited about.

Google Music is US only for the time being, but it's being offered for free – so Spotify had better watch out. The service comprises an online store, a new music app for phones and tablets running Android 2.2 and higher and a web player.

Using the Music Manager, you can pick up to 20,000 songs from across your devices to store in the cloud, with the option of adding new music automatically. The Android music app lets you pin playlists, albums and artists for offline play.

There's also an iTunes-esque store at music.google.com, with staff picks, promotions and personalised recommendations – based on your entire music collection, using Instant Mix technology to profile your tracks. As seen in the leaked screenshots from a few days ago, the music store's fully integrated with the Android Market. 

The store offers Free Tracks of the Day (as well as a large archive of free tracks), and includes a section for new and emerging artists, called Antenna. Google's signed deals with Universal, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment and independent record labels, with 8 million tracks up on the store now, set to rise to 13m tracks in the coming months. The big G's also bagged a brace of exclusive music for its store, including live concerts from The Rolling Stones, plus exclusive tracks from the Starbucks-esque rota of Coldplay, Busta Rhymes and Shakira. So far, so iTunes. 

Unsigned and independent artists haven't been left out. The Google Music Artist Hub will let struggling musos set up a customised profile page for a $25 fee, where they can set their own prices for their music – and take 70% of the income for purchases made over Android Market.

The big news is that Google's going for the social sphere in a big way with Google Music – you can share tracks and entire albums that you've purchased on Google+, letting your circles listen to them for free.

Sounds like iTunes and Spotify have a real challenge on their hands. Now, if only Google would hurry up and launch Google Music in the UK – it sounds like the perfect complement to all the Ice Cream Sandwich smartphones due out in the next couple of months.

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