After months of speculation and anticipation, Google's online music store is live and it's going up against some big industry names, including Apple's iTunes and Spotify.
Google ended conjecture about its plans late Wednesday with a news conference in Los Angeles to unveil its new online music store - Google Music. The service includes deals with three major music companies and allows users to buy music, and upload and store up to 20,000 songs for free.
Google even threw in some integration, enabling users to share music -- even streaming an entire album -- with their friends via the company's Google+ social network.
That, said analysts, is a direct challenge to Apple and its highly popular iTunes store, as well as to Amazon Cloud Player, a cloud-based service that was launched this past spring. Spotify, a three-year-old streaming music service gaining in popularity, also would seem to be in the cross hairs for Google Music.
"This has a huge potential upside," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "It could help attract and keep users and increases time users spend with Google. It's also a big positive for Android users, helping Google in a head-to-head with Apple."
He added that Apple's iTunes is an incredibly strong player in the market with an enormous and loyal user base, but Google Music should offer a good Apple alternative. "The Google offering will meet many customers' needs, and even a tiny percentage of the market would be good business."
Google Music could be a really strong offering of its own, but it still has a long way to go to catch up to iTunes, noted Gottheil.
What could give Google Music a big boost is the fact that Google immediately integrated the service with its fledgling social networking, Google+.
That social move, according to Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, could be the real "game changer" for Google Music.
"Google is making music social," he added. "This is different and it gives Google Music a great shot at being successful. The thing is, iTunes is music. Google Music is social music."
Today, social sites like Facebook have captured a massive amount of users' mindshare and online time. The social community is highly influential. And that, Kerravala said, means that people will want to be able to share their music with their friends and they'll want to discover new music through their friends.
"Google is letting users take music to their community," he added. "And people may use Google Music over iTunes because of community."
The Google+ integration with Google Music also means the new online music service could bring a whole lot of new users to Google+. That, said Kerravala, is a win-win situation for Google.
"The power of entertainment is a huge draw," he said. "This could be a real differentiator."
However, Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, contends that iTunes is entrenched with users and there are a lot of other solid online music choices. Google will have to work very hard to continue to make Google Music stand out in the long run.
"They'll really need to resource this," he said. "iTunes users are very loyal.... This is the first offering Google has come out with since [former Apple head Steve] Jobs gave [Google's new CEO Larry] Page the advice to focus, so we'll get our first opportunity to see if he listened."
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at Twitter @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.