iCloud vs. Google Music: A Breakdown

So Apple unveiled iCloud, it's music/documents/contacts/calendar/apps/pizza cloud service. Clearly, comparing it to other cloud-music competition isn't fair -- it's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison.

But we're doing it anyway.

After a few days of hands-on experience with Google Music and a few hours of Steve Jobs' proselytizing about iCloud, we break down the two services.

First, a look at Google Music: Upon signing up, Google lets you add a bunch of free music to your account. You choose genres, and it supplies the tunes. And this wasn't awful stuff, either -- it was actually music I'd listen to (Social Distortion, Cheap Trick, Modest Mouse). The Google Music Manager makes it easy to upload your own tunes -- at startup, you can easily sync it to iTunes, and it'll upload your entire iTunes library.

But as Jobs points out Monday, it's painfully slow -- it only got about a quarter through my 5,000-song library over the weekend.

Once the music is uploaded, though, it streams fine on my computer from Google Music's very basic web interface.

The best part? Google gives you massive amounts of storage for your music -- 20,000 songs for free. My music collection, which filled most of my 32GB iPhone, barely filled a quarter of the Google Music storage space. And it's free.

Another plus: Google doesn't care how you acquired the music. It'll take anything, no questions asked. With iClouds, for any music that wasn't purchased from Apple's iTunes store, you need to fork over $24.99 per year.

But for those of us with iPhones -- and yes, Android geeks, there are a lot of us -- it's mobile functionality is awful. And that's a deal-breaker.

There is no iPhone app -- only the Google Music web interface. And the interface is optimized for large screens -- on the small screen of an iPhone, it's difficult to navigate. And when you do find the songs you're looking for, they don't play reliably over 3G. Sometimes it takes 15-20 seconds for a song to start. Sometimes, it breaks up, mid-song.

Of course, that's a better experience than Android users will have with iCloud. Like many Apple services, it's simple: no iDevice? Too bad.

Even on iPhones and iPads, we don't we don't know how well music will stream from iCloud. In fact, based on Jobs' presentation on Monday, it's not clear if it's really a streaming service at all. As Jobs described it, iCloud is a service that will hold all of your music -- but in order to play it, you need to download it.

Which is better? Right now, it's not clear. Google Music can provide a frustrating experience if you're waiting for your favorite song to start up. And maybe outside of midtown Manhattan's AT&T network -- one of the worst places to use an iPhone -- Google Music works much better.

And until we know how long it takes to find a song, album or playlist in iCloud, download it to your device and give it listen, we can't really offer a fair comparison.

A combination would be ideal -- a service that lets you stream music from the cloud or download to your device. If iCloud lets you do that, Jobs didn't make it clear.

Another important note: Google Music's Android app may solve these problems. And it's not necessarily Google's fault there's no iPhone app -- as Google Voice showed us, Apple doesn't love letting Google release apps that mimic the iPhone's core functionality.

But for now, my Google Music account will likely stay on pause. The verdict's still out on iCloud.

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