According to paidcontent.org "Google is holding an invite-only music round-table this Thursday at its HQ with 20 of the top executives from the music industry. Not sure what they'll talk about, but I'm assuming it is one of two things or both: Google explaining its plans for a music vertical and/or seeking education about the music industry and how Google fits into it." Digital Music News says that Google claims the event is one of an ongoing series of industry specific gatherings and does not signal an impending announcement.
Google would be a latecomer to the evolving download game, but with it's brand and page views could be just the iTunes alternative that the labels and many music fans are hoping for. Much needed variable pricing could be (and should be) part of Google's plan. But since they are unlikely to manufacture and sell a player as Apple has; Google is unlikely to solve the underlying interoperability issues that are frustrating many non-iPod users.
We're betting Google will take the leap before year's end. Why not? It fits perfectly with their vide o download site and other initiatives. But Amazon - if they manufacturer a rumored player (with or without pre-loaded music) and code in the same ease of use that their book store provides - could still be the most aggressive new competitor.