March 29, 2011 at 10:43 am

Amazon Beats Apple and Google to the Music Cloud

Amazon beat Apple and Google to the music cloud

Amazon launched a cloud music locker and media storage service on Tuesday, giving music fans a way to store their music on a server and access it from any computer’s web browser or an Android smartphone. Apple and Google are both widely rumored to be testing a similar service. Now, Amazon has beaten both of those slowpokes to the punch.

In addition to the free 5GB (or 20GB with an album purchase) accounts, Amazon Cloud Drive offers several paid options.

In addition to the free 5GB (or 20GB with an album purchase) accounts, Amazon Cloud Drive offers several paid options.

Amazon Cloud Drive comes with 5GB of free storage, which is enough for 82 albums by our calculation, assuming you don’t use it for any photos, videos, or documents. If that’s not enough, you’ll need to pony up annual fees ranging from 20GB for $20 per year all the way up to 1TB for a cool grand, payed annually. To sweeten the deal, Amazon gives you a 20GB account for free if you buy an Amazon MP3 album.

(Note: We’ve now done testing on the Android Cloud Player app too; see the update below.)

Uploading music  to the service is a bit of a pain, in that you can’t select one or more folders (i.e. the whole “My Music” folder or even a group of favorite albums). That means that even if you spring for the $1,000 per year plan — enough to store all the music one should ever need — you’ll need to take the time to upload the files in each folder individually.

Sure, you can search for all MP3s on your hard drive within the uploader, and try to send them to the cloud in one fell swoop, but Amazon Cloud Drive limits uploads to 2GB so this takes multiple uploads, regardless of your approach.

The web browser-accessible version of Amazon Cloud Player performed well in our early testing, allowing the user to create playlists and manage songs with ease..

The web browser-accessible version of Amazon Cloud Player performed well in our early testing, allowing the user to create playlists and manage songs with ease..

On the upside, however, this means you don’t have to install any client-side helper applications to eat your RAM on a continuous basis, as happens with other music storage lockers.

Once the music is uploaded, you can play them back over the web and create playlists using the Amazon Cloud Player. Or as Amazon amusingly puts it, “Customers who have a computer with a Web browser can listen to their music.” (Either this is poorly thought out, or it’s an acknowledgement that eventually, people without computers might purchase Amazon MP3 albums on their Androids and stream them from those accounts without ever touching a computer’s web browser.)

Users can also download music from Amazon Cloud Drive directly to their Android devices, either over WiFi or a cellular connection. Given most wireless data plans these days, the former would be the smarter option.

Android owners can try Amazon Cloud Player by aiming their QR Code-scanning app at this image.

Android owners can try Amazon Cloud Player by aiming their QR Code-scanning app at this image.

If Amazon’s gambit works, it could eat away not only at the iTunes music store, but whatever music offering Google has been “dogfooding” (to borrow their ridiculous word for “internal testing”), because songs purchased from Amazon sideload directly into one’s Cloud Player account where they can be played using the web player or an Android smartphone. (One quibble: it doesn’t import one’s previously-purchased music.)

Amazon’s offer of a 20GB account with a $20 value in exchange for the purchase of any complete album from Amazon MP3 suggests that Jeff Bezos and company know they have a chance to grab music market share from Apple here. As for Google, it’s still “dogfooding” when it comes to launching its own music service, cloud-based or otherwise.

Update: Having now tested Amazon MP3 for Android Featuring Cloud Player on an Android smartphone following an earlier equipment snafu, we have a few additional observations to report.

  • The Android app wouldn’t let us see the music we’d uploaded from our laptop until we purchased a song from Amazon MP3. Update: However, we understand one can also enable the Cloud Player app by using the web interface, then logging out and back in to the app.
  • The app doesn’t let you upload music into the cloud.
  • If you purchase a song from Amazon MP3 on your laptop, you’ll need to sign in and sign out of the app before it shows up.
  • It takes a few seconds for the first song to play, even over Wi-Fi. Compared to playing music that lives locally on your device, streaming from the Amazon cloud makes for a less responsive player.
  • We were able to pause, skip, and move to new parts of a song without issue.
  • As Amazon claims, it’s relatively easy to download songs from the cloud and onto your phone.  This means that you can download songs and albums near a WiFi hotspot for mobile playback elsewhere, without using up any of your allotted monthly bandwidth.