Today at its I/O developer's conference, Google launched Google Play All Access in the US, its long-anticipated subscription music service. I just spent some time exploring the on-demand catalogue as well as its radio and music discovery features. The service's UI is impressively fast and fluid. Indeed, it's minimal in all the right ways. If only it wasn't so lonely in there.
All Access is an add-on to the Google Music storage locker that has existed since the end of 2011. That means that you can upload the music from your computer and then complete your collection from Google Play's enormous catalogue of music.
In the US it costs the same as Spotify -- $10 per month for the entire on-demand catalogue, radio, and use on mobile devices -- so we're expecting it to cost £10 a month in the UK once it makes the journey across the pond. There are no tiered plans; it's the whole shebang or nothing.
Navigating the catalogue and the app's different features couldn't be easier. The design is simple but at the same time packed with functionality. When you hover over a rectangular icon for an artist or album you're immediately presented with graphics to play the music or the familiar Google "..." button that reveals a menu with more options.
The whole interface is refreshingly intuitive. You never hit a dead-end when you're moving about different sections of the service. Every time you want the name of an artist or an album or something to be clickable, it is.
The detail pages albums are really nice example of the myriad ways All Access makes your life easier. Besides a little info about the artist, there are obvious buttons that let you launch radio based on that album or to add it to your library.
Same deal as the browser version. No dead ends. Swiping songs you dont want to listen to out of the play queue is very satisfying.
YouTube videos are actually my de facto vector for sharing music with friends on Facebook and Twitter. If you share a Spotify link — or a link from any walled garden — it inevitably means that someone won't be able to enjoy it.
Google built that behaviour into All Access. Instead of having to go search for a YouTube video when I want to share something, I can just click "Share YouTube Video" and a pop up will present you with links for few versions (if they're available). It's easy, and it doesn't require your friends having a Google+ account to enjoy.
Then again, All Access doesn't have very good social skills. Facebook? Nope! Twitter? Nope! A real-time feed of what all of your friends are listening to? Nopenopenope!
If you'd like, though, you can choose share on Google+ because of course you can share on Google+. It feels awfully lonesome in there.
Part of the problem with expansive streaming music services is that sometimes it's hard to figure out what jams your want to bust. The "Listen Now" tab is Google's answer to this problem. It's designed to provide you easy access to the radio stations and artists you like — as well as those it thinks you might like based on your activity. The straightforward tile design makes it simple enough to just impulsively click something and be done with it.
This is the oldest trick in Spotify and Last.fm's box: New Order is your favourite band? Age of Consent is your favourite song? Type it in and you'll get a playlist. The playlists I got were great on some cursory inspection. Plenty of variety and even hints of robotic taste. It's nice that you can remove songs from your radio queue if you want.
Again, it's the UI that sets radio apart from competitors. There's a lot packed into a simple interface.
Not yet. Google Play Music All Access has amongst the smoothest designs we've seen for something with so much horsepower. Unfortunately, it doesn't come with Spotify's great social integration baked-in — and the social integration it does have is half-baked.