Google Beats Apple to the Punch with New Free Streaming Service

It appears Google is content on cutting Apple off at the pass, unveiling a free, ad-supported tier of its Google Play Music service just a week before Apple officially launches its own highly-publicized streaming service. Like Apple’s product, the free version of Google Play Music will also have curated playlists rather than allowing users to select the songs they want to hear. The free service was rolled out for Internet listeners and those with Android devices on Tuesday, and the company is promising an update for iOS users in the coming days. In an effort to avoid backlash, Google went with the playlist-style service over Spotify’s on-demand free tier, which has received abundant criticism from artists complaining that Spotify does not adequately compensate artists. All of the music that can be accessed on Google Play’s paid music service will be available for free users, including the catalog of Taylor Swift, who has been quite vocal in demanding fair compensation from streaming services.

The primary difference between the new free service from Google Play Music and Spotify is that Spotify users on a free plan can listen to a certain number of songs each month on-demand. With Google’s free service, users can select an artists, a mood, a genre or a time period and the service will play songs that fit. Like Apple, Google went with the human element for compiling playlists, rather than letting algorithms determine musical selections. Of course, algorithms will be used when users select an artist or song to start their own station. Free users of the Google Play Music service will be limited in a couple of ways that paid subscribers are not. Free users, for instance, will be limited to six skips per hour, versus unlimited skips for paid subscribers, and free users will be able to pause songs but not rewind. Also, paid users can edit, rename and save playlists for offline use, whereas free users cannot.

With all the publicity Apple has gotten since announcing its new streaming service, Google is hoping that launching a free version might spur users to choose their service over Apple’s. The paid Google Play Music service has been available for over a year, but has failed to have an impact on business over at Spotify, which keeps adding subscribers. Google Play boats 30 million songs in its catalog, the same as Spotify and Apple Music, but the company has yet to reveal how many subscribers it has. That omission of information, insiders say, means that the results have been far short of expectations, and the company has a long way to go to threaten Spotify. The company is hoping that by offering a free version, it will introduce the service to new users, and that those users will eventually turn into monthly subscribers.