Dec. 18, 2012 at 6:37 PM ET
Google has updated its music storage and streaming service with a handy new song-matching feature pioneered by Amazon and Apple — but unlike those companies' services, Google's is free.
Apple launched its "iTunes Match" service just over a year ago, which for $25 a year would scan your music library and offer to replace your own music files (wherever they came from) with Apple's own. Amazon began offering a similar service in July, for the same price but with a limited free option.
Google's service, which launched as Google Music last year and was later renamed Google Play Music, let you upload your songs to the cloud but lacked the matching feature — until Tuesday.
Users can now let the service scan their library and assemble an online version of it using Google's own version of the tracks. No need to upload gigabytes of MP3s; Google just verifies the artist and album and makes it available for you to stream to any supported devices (or through the Web app) in 320 kbps quality — that's higher than the 256 kbps Amazon and Apple offer.
Best of all, the feature is totally free, and if you're already using the service, you don't need to do anything: Google is already looking through the tracks you've uploaded and making high-quality versions available.
So if you're not paying, who is? Apparently, Google: All Things D reports that Google is cutting checks up front to music makers instead of giving them a piece of whatever they charge users.
One caveat: The high-quality versions of the songs can't be downloaded for local use — only streamed online. So if you had visions of replacing your old 1999-era, 96 kbps CD rips with shiny new tracks freshly formed by Google, you're in for a disappointment.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.