February 16, 2011, 4:45 PM

Will Google launch a digital music store?

There have been reports for years, but this time it might be for real.

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Google Inc. launching a digital music store to go head to head with Apple Inc.’s iTunes store is a tale of the boy who cried wolf. Or, more accurately, the media who cried wolf. There have been accounts in the press proclaiming an imminent launch for a couple of years. However, this time the wolf may be at Apple’s door.

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress conference and exhibition in Barcelona, Spain, yesterday, Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha let it slip that Google will offer a music service, and that the service would be tied to the impending update to the search giant’s Android mobile operating system. Android 3.0, dubbed Honeycomb, has been developed with tablet computers in mind; previous versions have focused on smartphones.

Google will not confirm the launch of a digital music service. “We never comment on any potential or real deal until it is announced,” a Google spokesman says.

However, when the CEO of a major electronics manufacturer with a new Android tablet computer to sell says Google has a new music service on the way, it’s safe to assume that at least something is going on behind the scenes.

But even if Google does launch a service, the soaring popularity of its Android mobile platform and the gobs of cash that a titan like Google has to throw around do not ensure digital music success. Digital music is a unique market, and it will take some convincing for consumers to shift from the likes of Apple or Amazon.com Inc.

“Apple owns the music business because it owns the music device business,” says James McQuivey, media technology analyst at Forrester Research Inc. “Now, as MP3 players like the iPod are being replaced by phones and tablets, it gives Google a chance to create a competing service on the backs of the Android devices that are swiftly eclipsing Apple’s own gadgets. Google would be foolish not to try this, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that they will succeed because the Android platform is not built around a Google music store the way the iPhone/iPad platform is built around iTunes.”

Marketing and hardware could make the difference, McQuivey adds.

“It will take some actual consumer marketing to convince people to use a Google music service and it will require a Google music player for the PC that synchronizes well,” he says.

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