gBox to Challenge iTunes Starting Tomorrow

Will offer DRM-free music downloads at a cut rate price of 99cents.

Tomorrow marks the start in what may become a heated battle with iTunes for control of the quickly expanding digital music download market.

It has been announced that in a surprising new twist to Universal’s confrontation with Steve Jobs and iTunes for control over pricing, it has teamed up with Google to offer DRM-free music downloads at an astonishing 30cents cheaper than the $1.30 that iTunes Plus currently charges for similar DRM-free music track purchases.

Called " gBox," for 99cents users will be able to buy MP3s from a yet to be announced test selection with a choice between DRM-free or DRM-enabled music tracks. Now why somebody would choose the latter option is beyond me, but then again many people have trouble password protecting their routers(BTW THX "Frank27" for the free wi-fi).

The deal between the two will mean that Universal will receive the full amount for each sale rather than the 70cents it’s now paid from iTunes. Google will simply make money in the usual way – advertising. When a Google user searches for specific terms such as the name of a music artist or band, they will be directed to gBox where they can then purchase related content and material.

gBox is also said to already contain content from Sony and a few indie labels as well, so the stakes seem to be rising dramatically over dominance of the digital music download market, the last bastion of record labels as CDs slowly slide into oblivion.

The only obvious drawbacks that I can see so far is that it apparently won’t be MAC compatible, and thus not very iPod -friendly. Considering that a majority of portable music players are iPods it could prove to be a real hurdle if it expects to properly challenge the 800lb gorilla that is Apple’s iTunes.

I’ll have more details for you after tomorrow’s launch.