Android users no longer have to sign up for a third-party music service to get multimedia

On Monday, Google Canada launched the Google Play Music service in Canada. Previously available south of the border, Google finally added one more piece to the whole Android multimedia experience for those of us here in Canada.

Untangling all of the licensing issues required to bring a music service into a country is no small issue. Having previously worked in the music industry (okay, okay, I worked at a record store), one of the things that always mystified me was how some items were only available in certain countries: some items were only in the US, and sometimes we got things that the U.S. didn’t. Even more baffling to those not intimately acquainted with publishing rights, sometime an album was out on two completely different record labels in the two countries, even if both of those labels did business in both countries.

So you can imagine how tricky it is to bring a new digital service into a country when you have to make deals with a whole pile of different stakeholders every time you cross a border. (Heck, one of the most popular streaming music services in the world, Spotify, still hasn’t launched in Canada. Yeah … it’s a mess.)

If you’re curious, you can head to the Google Play Music store to sign up for a free month. If you want to purchase albums outright like you currently do on iTunes, you’ll be able to do so (including some Canadian titles at an introductory price of $1.49). If you’re more an Rdio-style unlimited streaming kind of person, you can get unlimited music for $9.99 per month ($7.99 if you sign up now).

This announcement is really good news for Android users who want a simpler way to get music to their devices. The music service is attached to the same account you use for purchasing apps, movies and books, which means you don’t have to sign up for a third-party music service to complete your the multimedia landscape. And because it’s associated with your Google Play account, it means your content is available on multiple devices, even third-party hardware like the Sonos players. You can even add your current iTunes library into Google Play for free.

Coming soon: Android Silver?

While the Google Play Music service has been officially launched, another Android-related item that’s been getting a bunch of buzz is something that Google’s not officially talking about: Android Silver. Since all of the news seems to be attributed to unnamed “sources”, it’s worth keeping any expectations firmly in check until someone from the mothercorp stands up and tells us what’s what. That said, the rumours have it that Android Silver is designed to replace Google’s current Nexus program.

Currently, Nexus is the standard for new Android development, providing a reference platform that rolls new features out first. Typically speaking, there are a very few Nexus-branded items, and they’re sold directly from Google. The rationale for purchasing a Nexus device: not only will you get a device sporting a “pure” version of Android free from the cruft-ware that’s installed by third-party manufacturers and/or carriers, but you’ll also be among the first to get new revisions of the operating system.

Under the Android Silver program (or so the rumour goes), multiple manufacturers will be able to release this type of standard-setting phone or tablet under their own branding. The catch is that they’ll be restrict in the number of non-Google apps they can install before the device gets into the hands of the ultimate customer, and those non-Google apps must be uninstallable by the user.

Of course, there are both upsides and downsides to this, if it’s true. The big downside is for manufacturers that love to add a bunch of extra functionality through their own proprietary apps, and the users that love these bonuses. On the other hand, customers won’t have to turn off a whole pile of “features” they never really wanted in the first place, either, or find themselves fighting with features that they can’t turn off at all.

In theory, the bigger upside will be quicker access to Android updates. One of the key advantages of Nexus devices is near-immediate access to newer versions of the Android OS, and with Silver that advantage should immediately (theoretically) push out to a greater number of devices. In other words, fewer users will have to sit around waiting for their phone’s manufacturer (and their carrier) to get their updates pushed through a lengthy approval process.

It’s hard to overstate how important this is, especially in the wake of the Heartbleed bug: when critical security updates need to be made, the last thing you want to be doing is waiting for a bureaucracy to get out of its own way. A quicker and more responsive OS ecosystem would definitely be welcomed, both by IT departments and individual users.

If this sounds good to you, don’t bother going to stand in line at your local store just yet. Even should this all turn out to be the actual Google plan (and there’s no guarantee of that), our mysterious sources say that Silver isn’t expected until 2015.

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