Running on mp3s

In this edition of our monthly Gadget column, we examine mp3 software.


If you’ve never installed Apple’s iTunes on your iPod, iPhone, iPad or computer, then you probably own a Zune—and your opinion on mp3 software doesn’t count. One of the—if not the—most prolific mp3 software programs, iTunes’ reach and straightforward controls are its biggest benefit.

Users can create playlists or use the Genius function to turn the responsibility over to Apple. By selecting one song, Genius creates an appropriate playlist based on your selection. Sometimes an odd song sneaks in, but if you’re so lazy that you can’t make your own playlist—the new millennium’s mix tape—you don’t deserve a perfect set. While iTunes is sturdy and reliable, it doesn’t play well with others. Apple’s proprietary mindset means that you won’t find it on game consoles, most mobile phones, or third-party mp3 players. Other programs and retailers such as Amazon and Napster have learned to work around iTunes roadblocks, but it’s a one-way street. At this point, it’s hard to shake iTunes completely for another program, but there’s heavy competition on the horizon and iTunes’ days at the top of the charts may soon be a one hit wonder.

Google Music

In May, Google threw its hat in the music business by introducing a beta for a cloud-based mp3 program. Cloud-based programs store information, in this case mp3s, on non-local servers so any device can access them. Since the user interface (UI) is web-based, any device that can connect to the internet through a browser is now a Google music player, even an iPhone. On a computer, the UI is clean and smooth. Though it’s not called Genius, Google Music offers the same functionality for creating playlists based on a single song selection. Like Genius, it’s not perfect. I get that nothing in the world compares to Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” but at least try to create a playlist around it. It’s also incredibly easy, but very time-consuming, to upload all of your songs to the cloud. I don’t want to say a bad word about Google—mainly because when they turn evil, rise up, and take over the world I don’t want my negative comments to appear on, well, Google—but on mobile devices, the site is hard to navigate. Gmail remained in beta for more than five years, so the potential for Google Music to rise up and take over mp3 programs—and not just the world—is staggering.

Amazon Cloud Player

It makes sense that the place you buy music—no, not Borders—also offers a way to listen to it. As with Google Music, Amazon’s offering is a cloud-based program and contains much of the same functionality as iTunes and Google Music. The UI is clean but not as smooth and polished as Google Music is, and some album artwork, notably Spice Girls’ Spice, didn’t transfer correctly. There is less functionality than Google Music and iTunes. For instance, you can’t make “smart” playlists, but one extremely nice feature is the ability to re-download your library, which turns the cloud player into a backup drive, as well.

On the flip side, big-name cloud servers are more likely targets for hackers, so the reliability as a backup drive is questionable. It’s more accessible than Google Music, which still requires an invite from current users, but accessibility will only take you so far. In the end, the program that effortlessly integrates music into our life through a variety of devices is going to win. My long-term money is on Google Music—and I’m not just saying that because the sleeping giant is watching what I write.