Amazon's Cloud Drive Music Service: Why It's Not Ready for Prime Time
Amazon's Cloud Drive Music Service: Why It's Not Ready for Prime Time
Amazon announced its new Cloud Drive music service last week. It seems innocent enough: You create an Amazon Cloud Drive account and then select the music you already own but want to access with your mobile devices. You upload the selected music to the Amazon Cloud Drive server (five gigabytes are free) and then download an Android mobile player. The Amazon Cloud Drive then streams your music to your Android mobile device (with other mobile platforms likely to follow).
Seems like a good idea, right? I don't think it will be successful. Here's why.
I love to listen to music, whether it's while I'm writing this column, on a flight or when I'm walking Fritzie, my little dachshund. Sometimes I prefer to listen to my own music, while at other times I prefer to listen to "radio stations" supplied by firms such as Pandora. Now that each of us has the ability to store our own music most anywhere (and very often also a wireless connection with which to play the music), the question becomes: How can you best find and play the music you're interested in? Do you need to own any of it or simply rent it for the times you want to listen to it? These questions weren't possible to answer a few years ago, but now they have become core to the future of music. The record labels-with distributors such as Apple, Rhapsody, Yahoo and Amazon-are all trying to figure out the answer to these questions.
Historically, most of us have a library of CDs that we've likely uploaded to iTunes (since there are over a billion downloads). I don't even know where all of my CDs are anymore. I have about 100 of them somewhere in the basement. iTunes has a built-in player that I use with my notebook PC. I also have a rather old iPod that sits in the kitchen to play some of our favorite old songs during dinner (my wife Alicia and I always dance to a few tunes every night we're home together-it's one of our traditions).
Now I have an iPhone and iPad to which I've synced up my iTunes library. I use the iPhone to play back music while walking with Fritzie (typically around Chastain Park). I use my iPad to play my music on a flight, even when I have my notebook PC because the iPad has a long battery life and playing music on the iPad doesn't run down the notebook's battery.
My wife Alicia and I tend to play Pandora when we want some background music. Pandora plays songs that it thinks you'll like based on your inputting names of artists who you like. You can also play any songs from any artist you specify. The ad-supported version is free and they provide an ad-free version for a subscription fee.
Why Amazon Cloud Drive Wont Succeed
Why Amazon Cloud Drive won't succeed
The reason that the Amazon Cloud Drive service isn't going to succeed in any major way is that you can pretty easily play your music on your mobile devices without having to go through the trouble of uploading them to Amazon just to stream them to your mobile devices. You can do that easily using iTunes and cable-sync to your iPod, iPhone or iPad. You can use third-party software to sync your music library to other mobile devices such as Android smartphones and tablets.
Having the music in the Amazon Cloud Drive and then streamed to your device could be expensive if you're using wireless broadband versus WiFi. Also, what if you're in an area that doesn't have a wireless connection? You won't be able to play any of your music in these situations.
There are a number of music-streaming services including Pandora, Sirrus XM and Rhapsody (with "all you can eat"-based subscriptions). Streaming is about affinity channels. You play music you like by selecting a channel on Rhapsody or an artist on Pandora. Pandora suggests songs similar to that artist. Rhapsody and Sirrus XM provide a number of popular channels (for example, Country or Rock). Smart people have programmed these Internet and mobile-streaming services to operate like radio stations have done locally for years.
Amazon Cloud Drive's main problem
Here's my main problem with the Amazon Cloud Drive: Why would you take the time to upload your music to Amazon if you couldn't always play it? Backing up your music is a good idea but there are lots of ways you can do this. Also, Amazon really shouldn't require you to upload your music. They should have deals with record labels so they can scan your music, and then simply access the standard version on the server and stream that to your mobile device.
I believe, for at least the next five to 10 years, most people will want to still "own" their important music. In spite of some people capturing music for free online, most people I know are willing to pay a reasonable fee (for example, $.99 per song or $9.99 per album). Then, they want an easy way to access their music on all of their devices-from their home theater to their PC to their tablet to their smartphone.
The Amazon Cloud Drive is really more of a music backup service. In that way, it's similar to other cloud-sync services such as SugarSync, RealNetworks Unify and Apple's MobileMe. Oh yeah, what about Apple? I suspect they will offer a streaming service at some point. They have invested over $1 billion on a data center in North Carolina. If they offer such a service, people will access it for "radio stations" of popular music but will also stream music videos, TV shows and movies.
Somehow, streaming seems more sensible for media that is consumed once rather than multiple times. Thus, it's sensible to stream a movie since you listen to it once and are unlikely to view it again, whereas with music, we listen to our favorite songs hundreds of times.
I think a core part of any good streaming service (Apple, Amazon, Rhapsody or Sirrus XM) needs to enable a temporary cache. On a trip during this past week, I rented a movie from iTunes. The server downloaded the movie to local storage in my iPad. I played it and then it was deleted automatically 24 hours later. I would have preferred to have had 48 hours but that's just a pricing issue. What's important is that I was able to have it local, as most of the time I looked at the movie when I didn't have any connection to the Internet.
For media that you want to use over and over, it's best to buy it and sync it to all of your devices. For media that you only need or want to use once, it's best to get it via a service for the length of time that you'd like to have it-typically a few days or a week. For media in which you want random content, use a streaming service such as Pandora, Rhapsody, Yahoo Music (run by Rhapsody) or Sirrus XM.
I can't recommend Amazon's Cloud Drive. You can achieve the same things a number of other ways that don't require an Internet connection in order to listen to your music. Over time, Amazon will likely improve their offering. They need to create licensing deals with record labels. Also, they need to support the ability to easily purchase music (permanent use) versus temporary use of TV shows and movies.
J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D. is Principal Analyst of Mobile & Wireless at MobileTrax LLC. As a nationally recognized industry authority, Dr. Purdy focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America. Dr. Purdy is an "edge of network" analyst looking at devices, applications and services, as well as wireless connectivity to those devices. Dr. Purdy provides critical insights regarding mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of the column Inside Mobile & Wireless that provides industry insights and is read by over 100,000 people a month.
Dr. Purdy continues to be affiliated with the venture capital industry as well. He currently is Managing Director at Yosemite Ventures. And he spent five years as a Venture Advisor for Diamondhead Ventures in Menlo Park where he identified, attracted and recommended investments in emerging companies in mobile and wireless. He has had a prior affiliation with East Peak Advisors and, subsequently, following their acquisition, with FBR Capital Markets. For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, as well as developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, Dr. Purdy's ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile and wireless industry. He is author of three books as well.
Dr. Purdy currently is a member of the Program Advisory Board of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) which produces CES, one of the largest trade shows in the world. He is a frequent moderator at CTIA conferences and GSM Mobile World Congress. He also is a member of the Board of the Atlanta Wireless Technology Forum. Dr. Purdy has a B.S. degree in Engineering Physics from University of Tennessee, a M.S. degree in Computer Science from UCLA, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Exercise Physiology from Stanford University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column. If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time.