Google's Music Beta service was the big news from the Android team at the Google I/O developers conference today.
The good news: it's live. The bad: It's accepting a limited number of requests to check it out — but only in the US.
More on Google's musical strike at Apple's iTunes (and to a lesser extent, Amazon's recent music locker launch) below. Some other highlights from I/O, which can be followed on Twitter at #googleio:
• Google announced a slew of Android stats, including that there is now more than 100 million Android activated devices; 310 Android branded devices from 36 OEMs on 215 carriers in 112 countries. There are now 200,000 free and paid apps in the Android Market store, which has generated more than 4.5 billion downloads to date.
• Android developers were briefed on Android@Home ("Open source libraries that will enable developers to build apps that can discover, connect and communicate with devices and appliances in the home" — translation: Google's big move to expand Android beyond smartphones and tablets) and Project Tungsten ("Hardware reference design that runs the Android OS and the Android@Home software framework").
• Google also revealed the Nexus S smartphone, now available from Sprint and the first phone to run Android 2.3 (aka Gingerbread), the fastest version of Android yet. It's also available at Best Buy, which will carry it unlocked by year-end in the US.
• The next major flavors of Android: Ice Cream Sandwich (aka Android 2.4) for mobile devices and Honeycomb (Android 3.1) for Google TV (also now rolling out to Motorola XOOM 3G devices). The Ice Cream Sandwich pitch: "One OS everywhere, state of the art UI, advanced app framework, open source." The too-cute logo:
• Movie rentals are now live on Android Market. Choose from thousands of movie titles and watch instantly on the web (streaming via cloud) to computers and Android devices including a Verizon Motorola Xoom ("support for more devices, including phones, coming soon").
• And more details on the cloud-based Music Beta service:
Billed as "a better way to play your music," users can upload their personal music collection and access it instantly on any web browser or compatible Android device without the hassle of wires or syncing. Keep everything in sync, and forget the hassle of cables and files. Google describes the benefits as:
Listen anywhere, even offline: You can get to your personal music collection at home or on the go. Listen from the web or any enabled device with the Music app available from Android Market. Not online? No problem. The songs you've recently played will automatically be available offline. You can also select the specific albums, artists and playlists you want to have available when you're not connected.
Stay in sync, without the hassle: Spend more time listening to your music and less time managing it. Once your music is online, it's always available. Playlists are automatically kept in sync, and you don't have to worry about cables, file transfers, or running out of storage space.
Your collection, now in one place: Upload your personal music collection to a single library, even if it's scattered across multiple computers. You can upload music files from any folder or add your iTunes® library and all of your playlists. And when you add new music to your computer, it can be automatically added to your music collection online.
Mix it up: Create your own custom playlists with just a few clicks. Or use Instant Mix to automatically build new playlists of songs from your collection that go great together. All the playlists you create and all the changes you make to them are automatically available everywhere your music is.
Below, take a closer look at the Music Beta Android app — along with Google's welcome to I/O attendees that reinforced the importance of the cloud to its future business prospects:
Here's the cloud hanging over Google's I/O conference today — but, hopefully, not its future!