Can Google Compete with iTunes?

by James R. Stoup Jan 30, 2006

Recently it has been confirmed that Microsoft is working on a product that will directly compete with the iPod. However, given the current quality of the iPod product lines, Microsoft would have to produce a near perfect MP3 player if they hoped to take away any of iPod’s market-share. Of course, just competing with the iPod from a hardware standpoint isn’t enough. Microsoft would also need to develop a software solution that would interface smoothly with their new player. These are rather large hurdles to jump. Fortunately for Apple it seems quite unlikely that Microsoft would be able to pull such a feat off in the a time frame of less than 3 years. A more pressing threat might come from everyone’s favorite search company, Google. Google Tunes could be coming to a computer near you. But could Google have any more success competing with Apple than Microsoft? Here are my thoughts on what might happen.

Points in Google’s favor
Leading the industry in search technology is Google’s primary strength. They have lots of talented programmers, plenty of cash and excellent leadership. Looking over some of Google’s offerings we see such quality programs like: Blogger, Desktop Search, Google Earth, Google Toolbar and Picasa. So, clearly they can create easy to use, powerful software that appeals to a wide variety of users. So, Google has all of the resources they need to make an iTunes competitor, but does that mean they can pull off?

First, they would need to make something at least as easy to use as iTunes. And comparing iPhoto to Picasa I think it is reasonable to say that they could do this. But their job would be harder than Apple’s with respect to compatibility. Apple just has to make sure iTunes works with the iPod. Google would have to make sure that their product works with products from Creative, Sony, Apple and potentially Microsoft. And as each company releases a new device Google would have to work to ensure full compatibility. Otherwise they would offer their customers no reason to use their product instead of Apples.

Points against Google
If Google actually creates an MP3 player then they will almost certainly launch a service for buying music online. Without such a service they can’t fully compete with iTunes. However, even their most ardent fans will admit that Google’s video service is sub-par. Google Video, evaluated on its own, lacks features and refinement. And when compared with the ITMS, it becomes rapidly apparent that Google’s attempt falls far short of the mark. So, if Google decides to sell songs like it sells videos then they can probably expect to fail in that endeavor as well.

But let’s assume for a moment that Google learned a valuable lesson from their video experiment. After all, they have lots of smart people working for them and so I see no reason why they won’t modify their product until they make it competitive. So, when they release Google Tunes (or whatever they decide to call it) it is quite likely that they will have a very polished music service to go with it. However, that will take a good deal of time to perfect. Thus, while it is doable in the long run, rolling out such a service in the next year seems unlikely.

Bottom line
Google has a good chance of making a product that can effectively compete with iTunes. However, based on the poor quality of their video service, it seems unlikely at this time that they could field a true competitor for the ITMS.


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