Amazon's new Cloud Drive and Cloud Player offer a no-frills, easy-to-use way to upload and play your music via the Web. But that also comes with some caveats.
launched a heavy salvo against Google and Apple in the digital-music wars, with
a new cloud-based service that allows customers to upload their music to the
online retailer's cloud drives and play songs via a "Cloud Player."
Both Apple and
Google are reportedly planning "cloud media" applications for their respective
product lines. In December 2009, Apple acquired online music service Lala, a
partner in Google Music, only to promptly shut it down. That sparked rumors
that Apple was clearing the way for its own branded service, possibly supported
by a newly built North Carolina server farm. In the meantime, speculation rages
about a Google Music service allegedly under construction
But Amazon, by
leveraging its already-extensive cloud assets, seems to have outpaced both
those companies with the March 29 launch of its Web-based music locker. With
the service in place, and an Internet connection, users can stream their music
to any PC, Mac, Android smartphone or Android tablet (apparently compatible
with devices running Android 1.6 and above).
customers are being offered 5GB of free storage for their music on Amazon Cloud
Drive. In a bid to leverage its presence in digital music, Amazon is offering
to upgrade those free accounts to 20GB for a year if the user purchases an
Amazon MP3 album. Songs purchased from Amazon MP3 are stored in Cloud Drive
without counting toward the user's overall storage total.
In addition to
music, Cloud Drive customers can also store photos, videos and documents. Fees
start at $20 per year for 20GB of space, rising to $1,000 per year for 1,000GB.
For those who earned a free 20GB by purchasing an Amazon MP3 album, the
question remains whether Amazon will begin charging $20 once the deal's offered
year of free storage is over.
Amazon is also
taking on iTunes directly with its Cloud Player, which comes in Web and Android
versions. "All you need is a computer with a Web browser, and you can listen to
your music with Cloud Player for Web-no software to install-just a Web
browser," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wrote in a statement posted on the
. "The Android version is an app that lets you do
the same thing from your Android phone or tablet."
Cloud Player supports the Web and Android, there is no native application for
Apple's iOS franchise, which includes the iPhone, iPad and iPod. It is a
conspicuous absence. Nor does the cloud player support RIM's BlackBerry or
But how well
does Amazon's service actually work? If you're a pre-existing Amazon customer,
the answer is "pretty smoothly."
Amazon's Cloud Drive area (helpfully accessible from Amazon's landing page,
where Bezos' statement has finally removed the seemingly-ubiquitous Kindle ad),
users sign onto their Amazon account. From there, a plus-sized button asks you
to "Select files to upload." So far, so good: a window opens, letting you
select music from your hard drive. There seems to be excellent interoperability
with iTunes, although all the songs tested were also free of DRM (Digital
Rights Management) requirements.
The Cloud Drive
isn't the speediest uploader in the world. In fact, in a speed test with an FTP
uploader such as FileZilla, it seems downright slow. Uploading 250MB took over
an hour on a cable broadband connection.
files have been uploaded to Cloud Drive, of course, you can access the Cloud
Player. The Web version of the application is no-frills: With individual songs,
you can play, pause, skip forward or back to certain points. With the playlist,
you can shuffle songs, repeat them, create new playlists, and subdivide by
artist, album or genre. As with other streaming services, depending on the
strength of your particular Internet connection, sometimes songs need a few
moments to buffer before they begin playing.
interesting tweak, Amazon ferrets out the cover art for albums-even ones
originally ripped from a CD-and displays it beside the track controls. If
anything, this represents a step up from iTunes, which tends to pair music not
purchased from Apple with a monochromatic gray note symbol.
are already beginning to object to Amazon's latest platform. "We are
disappointed that the locker service that Amazon is proposing is unlicensed by
Sony Music," Sony Music Entertainment wrote in a March 29 statement. Others
will likely follow in coming days.
testing, it doesn't seem as if Amazon is offering much beyond what similar applications,
including SugarSync, have already put on the marketplace. If one could
conjecture for a moment, what likely frightens the music companies is the
prospect of Amazon, having established this platform, then taking a page from
Apple's book and bending them into tight deals or music or other media.
But is there
anything here to fear for prospective users? If you're the cost-adverse type,
and driven by the overwhelming urge to place all your music in the cloud, and
own a ton of music, then Amazon's pay structure could be a turnoff. Similarly,
those who want to listen to their music without an omnipresent Web connection
will likely stick with traditional, hard-drive-based storage.
there's the inevitable privacy question: by uploading your music to Amazon,
you're essentially giving them the right to monitor your stuff. ("You give us
the right to access, retail, use and disclose your account information and Your
Files," reads the legalese.) And if there's some sort of security breach, then
the whole world is going to know about your secret Wang Chung
But if you
want easy-to-use, stripped-down cloud storage for your music, Amazon now offers
something definitely worth examining.