Although Google Play Music (GPM) competes directly against Spotify and other streaming services, it actually doesn't have its own desktop app. Generally speaking, Google's mobile services come from a kaleidoscope of individual apps, but us lowly Windows and Mac users get corralled into a web browser tab when we want to load up Gmail, Drive, Photos, Maps, and so on. Have Play Music fans been missing out by not having a Spotify-like desktop experience? Let's investigate.
It doesn't try to reinvent the wheel: Play Music doesn't have a bad interface, so why fix what isn't broken? For the most part, Google Play Music Desktop Player (GPMDP) seeks to mirror the look and feel of the in-browser experience, for maximum familiarity. Its advantages come in what it can add to the experience, rather than attempting to alter what's already working.
The additional features are welcome and sensible: While the visual design of GPMDP is nearly identical to the web version, you'll notice a few additional items when you click on the hamburger menu in the upper left corner, chiefly "Desktop Settings" and "Trash." Clicking on Desktop Settings opens up a whole new layer of functions and interaction. You can set the Player app to open when you start your computer, enable voice control, use a mini player widget, link the app to a Last.FM account, create keyboard shortcuts for a variety of common actions, and even try out experimental support of 5.1 surround sound.
The Trash section exists in the web version of Google Play, but you can't see it unless there's something in it. Making it a permanent resident of the UI can help alleviate some anxiety about accidentally removing a song from your library, and it's also a better reminder that your trash is automatically emptied after 60 days.
A free remote player mobile app for Android: As its name implies, Remote for GPMDP is a free Android app that interacts directly with the Desktop Player, over your local Wi-Fi connection. You get music controls, playlists, search, and the ability to play specific songs, plus the app is compatible with Android Wear. So your compatible smartwatch can use the app, too.
How is this different from just using Google's mobile app to cast to a local device? Surprisingly, the official app doesn't let you cast to your computer, even if you have Play Music loaded in a Google Chrome browser tab. You need a Chromecast, Nexus Player, or other officially supported device. The unofficial Desktop Player app is the only way for Play Music to replicate a function that Spotify users have enjoyed for years.
You may be leery about using your Google account password in the app: It's healthy to be skeptical when a non-official app asks for your password. But we know that we can make an exception for GPMDP for a few reasons. One, the app is mostly acting as a front end for the Play Music website, so it can't intercept your log-in info. If you try to access your Google account from within GPMDP, you actually get redirected to an external web browser window.
Two, the app creator, Samuel Attard is not anonymous. He prominently displays his full name, physical appearance, place of residence, multiple methods of contact, and even where he goes to college. We know more about him than we do about the people who make Google Play Music, itself. Three, there is no attempt to make a financial transaction. The app and your use of it are completely free, because it is a student project.
Because the app is a student project, its future is unclear: Samuel Attard began developing GPMDP as a teenager, in college, as a freely available engineering project, rather than a product he intended to make money off of. So he's not obligated to keep updating it, and his interests may change. However, GPMDP is also open-source, with its source code available on Github. So if he abandons the project, someone else can hypothetically pick it up. Although you still want to be careful about where you enter your Google account password, since a new project manager isn't automatically trustworthy.
If you're already committed to services like Spotify or Apple Music, Google Play Music Desktop Player probably won't convert you. But GPM users (of which you are one if you have a subscription to YouTube Red) should definitely take a look at this polished desktop app.