Back in March, Amazon beat Apple and Google to the “music locker” punch with their “Cloud Drive” and “Cloud Player”, which offered 5 GB of free storage space and an accompanying music player, respectively. At the time of release, both the Cloud Drive and the Cloud Player were only available on the Web and Android.
Today, Amazon is announcing a few nifty enhancements to its cloud-based music locker, including storage plans that offer unlimited space for music, free storage for MP3 purchases, and Cloud Player has finally come to the iPad.
While the 25 million-plus iPad owners may be excited to test Amazon Cloud Drive, there will be a price to pay for Amazon’s new enhancements — albeit a small one. The Cloud Drive and Cloud Player will cost, at the very least, $20 a year, which seem to be a very reasonable price for unlimited space for for music storage. To clarify, according to Amazon, this offer is available starting at the lowest price grade, $20/year, which includes 20 GB of file storage and unlimited space for MP3s and AAC music files.
As to the terms of these storage grades, they will remain much the same as they were when Cloud Drive launched in March, with customers beginning at 5 GB of free cloud storage, which will allow users to begin uploading their digital music libraries, and presumably get them hooked on the service before opting for more. And, for a limited time, customers who purchase any Cloud Drive plan will receive unlimited storage for no additional cost, so if you want to test out Cloud Drive, the time is now. Amazon has not yet made it clear when it will lift this “limited offer”, but we’ll be sure to update.
And though Amazon’s new enhancements are certainly targeted at unlimited music listening, it should be noted that the basic Cloud Drive storage provides support for multiple kinds of digital files, including photos, videos, and documents — a la Dropbox. Amazon also said in its press release that those who qualified for 20 GM of free storage from earlier promotions can upgrade at no cost.
For the iPad, Amazon says that the Cloud Player for the Web has been “optimized to offer customers streaming playback of their Cloud Drive music using Safari”. Those interested in checking it out, can go here to learn more.
This announcement comes hot on the heels of Apple’s iCloud offering 5 GB of free online storage along with synchronization for music, photos, apps, documents, iBooks, contacts, e-mail and calendars. Dropbox, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have all now jumped into the cloud storage game, which will you choose?
On Monday, Steve Jobs introduced iCloud to the Apple developers at WWDC, and we’ve been absorbing what it means ever since. John Biggs and I devote this entire episode of Fly or Die to iCloud, explaining what it is, why it’s important, and where it falls short. Watch the video above.
At it’s heart, iCloud demotes your computer as your digital hub and moves that hub online. This is not just for your music or photos, but potentially for all apps. And that is one of the biggest shifts for apps that run on iOS since it got started.
If you look at any given app, some push the boundaries more than others. Adding Photo Stream to iPhoto means you can snap a picture on your iPhone and it automatically appears on your MacBook without cables. That’s pretty awesome. The iTunes cloud features aren’t nearly as exciting—it’s basically just a music locker that syncs to all your devices, but there’s no streaming. You still have to download the music to each device. Compared to Google Music or Amazon Cloud, it’s a little bit better, but not amazingly superior.
The bigger point, however, is that Apple making it possible for apps to store, sync, and serve your essential data from teh cloud. And as I, Cringely puts it:
Just like they used to say at Sun Microsystems, the network is the computer. Or we could go even further and say our data is the computer.
If Apple can make iCloud fly, it could change everything.
Source: Will iCloud Fly Or Die? (TCTV)
Next week, Apple will unveil its much-anticipated iCloud service at its annual developer conference, WWDC. Apple even put out a press release this morning pre-announcing the service—something it almost never does. Details began leaking out in March, and then the name was pretty much confirmed when Apple bought the domain iCloud.com. Yet for all the talk and speculation, we still don’t know exactly what iCloud will look like, or what services it will include.
Here is what we know so far (or at least what we think we know):
- iCloud will include a music locker that mirrors your iTunes collection online and makes it available via streaming to any device. But as I’ve argued, it needs to be much more than this.
- It will be more than just music. In fact, iCloud will likely replace Apple’s so-so MobileMe service.
- Not only that, iCloud could be baked right into iOS 5, which will also be announced at WWDC.
- Once it’s baked into the OS, any number of new iCloud services can be launched in the future, such as a location service for friends and family.
It isn’t too difficult to imagine other cloud services, some of which already exist as part of MobileMe, such as being able to back up and share photos or personal videos in the cloud, but done better. It is no secret that Steve Jobs was not happy with the initial launch of MobileMe three years ago. A recent article in Fortune describes how Jobs dressed down the group responsible for the initial debacle:
“Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?” Having received a satisfactory answer, he continued, “So why the fuck doesn’t it do that?”
For the next half-hour Jobs berated the group. “You’ve tarnished Apple’s reputation,” he told them. “You should hate each other for having let each other down.” The public humiliation particularly infuriated Jobs. Walt Mossberg, the influential Wall Street Journal gadget columnist, had panned MobileMe. “Mossberg, our friend, is no longer writing good things about us,” Jobs said. On the spot, Jobs named a new executive to run the group.
Even Walt Mossberg, Apple’s “friend” in the press, hated the first version of MobileMe. The service was fixed, but it never was never able to rise to the level of Apple’s other products. Now with iCloud, Apple might finally be ready to rethink the whole experience beyond the simple syncing and sharing of data to full-fledged apps with online components.
What does that mean? Well, for starters it could mean that Apple software on the iPhone, iPad, and desktop such as iTunes, iPhoto, and maybe even iMovie will also exist as Web apps. Or at least certain features will be available in the cloud. At a minimum, you should be able to access your collection in the cloud and share it with people online. Right now, all those pictures, songs, and movies are locked in people’s Macs and iPhones, and it is still a hassle to get them off your device and onto the Web.
But that is just Step 1. Remember, Apple is choosing to announce iCloud at its developer conference, presumably so that they can start developing their own apps for iCloud. If iCloud is baked into iOS 5, perhaps it will be more than just a set of Apple services. This is complete speculation on my part, but what if it’s a framework for developing iPhone and iPad apps with storage and software functions in the cloud instead of on the device? App developers could then choose to enable certain functions in the cloud. The storage limits of the device would become less of an issue as well.
Of course, this line of thinking raises a whole host of other questions. Who would host all of these cloud apps—Apple or the developers themselves, with Apple merely defining how the services must work? Once apps exist in the cloud, will it be easier to create hooks in between them? How will Apple charge for its own iCloud apps, as a bundled yearly subscription ($99/year) or a la carte? Will any of them be free? How will developers be able to charge for iCloud apps? Will Apple use iCloud as a way to bring over the subscription model for online publications to apps?
Other than the name and a few spare details, we know so little about iCloud. Hopefully, Apple will have answers to these questions next week. What do you think iCloud will look like?
Photo Credit/Flickr/Kevin Dooley
As we’ve suspected for a long time, Apple is very close to launching an online music service which may go by the name iCloud. The basic idea is that it will mirror your iTunes collection online so that it is available on any device without clunky cable syncing.
While getting rid of those cables will be a big step forward, if iCloud is nothing more than a music locker service it won’t go far towards transforming digital music, as BusinessWeek proclaims. Brad Stone and Andy Fixmer at BusinessWeek report that three out of the four major U.S. music labels have already signed up with Apple, and the fourth is about to sign. This will give Apple a huge advantage over already-announced music services from Amazon and Google, both of whom failed to secure licenses from the music industry and thus launched with compromised products. Since they don’t have the right licenses for streaming music, they require consumers to upload their music collections to the “locker” services. (Apparently, Google was willing to pay the labels $100 million up front for the music rights, “but talks broke down over the music industry’s concern that search results in Google and YouTube often point to pirated music”). Apple will simply index your collection and mirror it without the need for bulky uploads. Here is how BusinessWeek describes Apple’s upcoming iCloud music service:
Armed with licenses from the music labels and publishers, Apple will be able to scan customers’ digital music libraries in iTunes and quickly mirror their collections on its own servers, say three people briefed on the talks. If the sound quality of a particular song on a user’s hard drive isn’t good enough, Apple will be able to replace it with a higher-quality version. Users of the service will then be able to stream, whenever they want, their songs and albums directly to PCs, iPhones, iPads, and perhaps one day even cars.
. . . While it may be a huge shift, it won’t be free. Apple no doubt has paid dearly for any cloud music licenses, and it’s unclear how much of those costs it will eat or pass on to consumers. One possibility would be to bundle an iCloud digital locker into Apple’s MobileMe online service, which currently costs $99 a year and synchronizes contacts, e-mail, Web bookmarks, and other user data across multiple devices.
So let me get this straight. Apple’s iCloud will be iTunes online, with a few features that make it slightly better than Google’s Music Beta—namely, I won’t have to spend hours uploading my music collection and I will get better quality audio files for some songs. That’s all great, but I am not sure it is enough for me to pay a monthly subscription. If it’s bundled with MobileMe, it certainly would make that service more appealing, but I wouldn’t pay for iCloud as a standalone service if that is all there is to it. And certainly, this could turn out to be only one part of a revamped MobileMe service. Depending on what else will be added, iCloud could help push more MobileMe subscriptions overall.
But let’s take iCloud as a standalone service. If it’s so great, people should be willing to pay for it on its own. But why would I pay a monthly subscription for the privilege to listen to my own music collection streamed from the Internet? I’ve already paid for all those songs, and now I am going to pay again just to have them available online? I don’t think so. Guess what, I can already do that for free with Google Musc beta. Sure, it takes a while to upload all of your songs. But it’s all done in the background with a music manager desktop software that you download. When I did it, I was surprised at how fast my songs became available—so much so that I thought Google was mirroring my collection. (You can see what Google Music Beta looks like in this episode of Fly or Die, which I’ve embedded below).
Forget about streaming your own collection from the cloud. That’s great and all, and it should be a feature of iTunes included for free. If I am going to pay a monthly subscription for a music service, I’d better be getting access to any song I want. I’d rather sign up for Rhapsody, Rdio, or (one day) Spotify, and get unlimited access to millions of songs. If Apple wants to truly transform digital music again, it needs to change the way we consume and pay for it. If iCloud is just a better music locker, it’s not terribly exciting. If it’s also a jukebox in the sky with a full-blown music subscription service tied to my existing iTunes collection—well, now I’m listening.
Photo Credit/Flickr/Kevin Dooley
According to Reuters, Apple is getting ready to launch its cloud-based music service or digital music locker, which will allow users to upload their music to Appleâ€™s servers so that they can access them from various devices.
Reuters reports that Apple has “completed work” on the rumored cloud-based service and is set to launch it ahead of Google.
Apple Inc has completed work on an online music storage service and is set to launch it ahead of Google Inc, whose own music efforts have stalled, according to several people familiar with both companies’ plans.
Apple’s plans will allow iTunes customers to store their songs on a remote server, and then access them from wherever they have an Internet connection, said two of these people who asked not to be named as the talks are still confidential.
Reuters reports that according to their sources, Apple is yet to sign any new deals with major music labels.
However, All Things Digital reports that Apple has already signed deals with two out of the four major music labels.
This is in contrast to how Amazon launched their cloud based service. It launched Amazon Cloud Drive without taking approval from the music labels.
MacRumors points out the benefit of signing deals with music labels:
All Things D points out that having official licenses can allow Apple to store a single master copy of a song rather than storing individual copies for every user. Amazon’s original argument against needing the licenses was that their service was the same as any upload storage service. This meant that users needed to upload copies of their old music to be able to stream them. With the proper deals, Apple could avoid the need to upload individual copies and simply allow users to stream off of the single master copy. This could save on significant upload time for the user and storage requirements for Apple.
It remains to be seen when Apple plans to launch the cloud-based service and how much it will cost. We were expecting Apple to launch it atÂ WWDC 2011 when it will unveil the next generation iOS -Â iOS 5, which we’ve heardÂ will be heavily built around the cloud and expected to include features likeÂ digital music locker. According to rumors, Apple is planning to charge $20 per year for the digital music locker.
Are you excited about the cloud-based music service from Apple?
Last week, Amazon launched its Cloud Drive, with an emphasis on music storage. While there have been a number of “jukebox” services these last 10 years (Napster 2.0, MusicNow, Virgin Digital, Yahoo Music Unlimited, MTV Urge, MOG, Spotify, Thumbplay, Rdio), relatively few “locker” offerings have emerged—although rumors of new locker services from Apple and Google sound promising. Last week, Amazon leapt ahead of both rivals in launching Cloud Drive, a service that allows you to stream, for free, any songs purchased from Amazon.
It also allows you to upload up to 5GB from your existing music collection for free storage and streaming; if you pay an additional $1 (or more) per year, you get an incremental 1GB (or more) of storage. Amazon has not (yet, at least) negotiated direct licenses with content owners for Cloud Drive.
While it is creating quite a stir, remember that music in the cloud isn’t new. Jim Griffin envisioned the “heavenly” jukebox more than a decade ago, and Listen.com executed a subscription-based version of the concept in the form of Rhapsody in 2001. During the same period, myplay and My.MP3.com introduced the music locker, another vision for music in the cloud but populated with a user’s existing music collection, without the subscription fee. Offering cloud-based access to your music collection obviously extends its value, making it available from another computer or a mobile device, and ensuring you don’t lose it if your hard drive crashes.
For Amazon, it makes sense to pursue a locker service: they’ve perfected cloud-based content storage and delivery for thousands of web-based startups with Amazon Web Services (AWS). Amazon Web Services (AWS) already provides hosting and data transfer. What’s interesting, however, is that the consumer-facing Cloud Drive is actually cheaper than its existing business-facing offering. While Cloud Drive charges only $1 per GB per year (beyond the free allotment), AWS charges $1.08 per GB per year for storage alone. If each song in a person’s uploaded collection were streamed once per month, on average, AWS would require an additional $1.20 per GB per year for data transfer (or roughly $2.28 per GB in total).
Since Cloud Drive could well generate less than half the revenues as AWS for the same offering, it seems Amazon is offering the storage as a loss leader to gain digital music market share. Amazon undoubtedly hopes to wrestle away some market share from Apple’s iTunes, particularly in view of the growing base of Android users not yet served by a Google download store. Its bold “first move” without licensing deals from the music labels could complicate and delay negotiations at Apple and Google. Early adopters of Cloud Drive—especially Android users—might then consider the switching costs and choose to stick around even once Google and Apple launch their own competing services.
In addition, while I’m personally bearish on the mainstream prospects for the subscription-based, on-demand model, it’s also worth noting that a music locker may provide a more logical transition from the a la carte world of ripped CDs, iTunes, and Amazon’s MP3 store to the celestial jukebox of Rhapsody and Spotify. At some point, it will make more sense for hardcore locker user to switch to unlimited music subscription services. For instance, a Rdio subscription costs $60 a year, which is the same as keeping 65 GB of music on Cloud Drive (5GB for free + 60GB at $1 per GB per year).
But will Amazon get away with offering Cloud Drive without a license? I think there’s a good chance it will. While there’s no doubt some grey areas are not yet adjudicated, it appears the labels can live with (i.e. won’t sue) a service that allows people to upload music from their own collections, provided there’s a unique copy of each track stored and no related features that make it easy to infringe. My.MP3.com was sued and lost because it allowed users to “beam” CDs in their computer hard drive, providing access to the “bits” ripped from CDs purchased by MP3.com (rather than the user’s CDs). This feature also made it easy to replicate a friend’s CD collection in the cloud. In contrast, the plain-vanilla locker service of myplay was never sued.
Likewise, the current suit against MP3tunes, another music locker service founded by Michael Robertson, focuses on a user’s ability to “sideload” music they don’t own from around the web, plus the use of a single copy for each track streamed. However, so far, mspot and Amazon—not to mention myriad other services like Google and Dropbox that have broader storage purposes but are often used for hosting music—haven’t been sued.
Although, the industry has been experimenting with different models for online music services for a decade, I am hopeful that the entry of Amazon, and soon Apple and Google, will finally bring music to the cloud in a meaningful way.
In this week’s episode of Fly or Die, we cover two big launches—Amazon Cloud Drive and Color—and a Quirky DIY pocketKnife called the Switch. Just yesterday, Amazon launched its Cloud Drive, which is a general storage service in the cloud which is being pushed as a media locker, starting with music. Amazon beat both Apple and Google to the punch with an online music locker. Anytime you buy an MP3 or album from Amazon, you can back it up in your Cloud Drive, from where it can be played no matter what computer you are on (unless it is an iPad or iPhone).
When you buy a digital song, there should always be a backup available to you. That’s just obvious, and Amazon just took an important first step in that direction. Is it the best online music service? No, there’s no radio, no sharing, only playlists you make yourself. It’s kind of boring, to be honest. But it is useful.
Color is the $41 million photo app nobody can figure out. Is it the future or is it a dud on arrival? Color actually works impressively as a social camera when more than one person is using it simultaneously in the same place. It taps into all the iPhone’s sensors to gather data about places and people in proximity to one another—conjuring images of that scene in Batman where he tracks signals from all the cell phones in the city to find the Joker.
The app creates more of an experience network than a social network of people experiencing the same things, and then creating visual connections between those people that must be reinforced over time. But the big problem is nobody knows what to do with it when they launch the app by themselves. CEO Bill Nguyen joins us as our special guest and explains how his team is going to “solve the loneliness problem.” We also talk about the funding, the backlash, whether Steve Jobs is an investor, and his thoughts on Amazon’s online music ambitions (his previous company was Lala, which he sold to Apple).
Finally, we take apart the Quirky Switch—literally. This DIY pocketknife, which my co-host John Biggs shows off in this video review, lets you assemble your own Swiss Army Knife, picking which tools you want. It sounds better than it actually is. Trust me.
Check out previous episodes of Fly or Die, and subscribe, on iTunes.
I penned a blog post earlier today covering the potential impact that Amazon’s new digital music locker will have on startups that have been letting people upload their music to the cloud for years (but charge more for it than Amazon does unless they need to store literally tens of thousands of songs).
I got a response from the founders and head honchos of two of those startups in the line of fire, MP3Tunes CEO Michael Robertson, who already has a long and fascinating career (and legal history) in the world of digital music behind him, and Daren Tsui, CEO and co-founder of mSpot.
Robertson’s take was particularly interesting, not just because he’s been an occasional TechCrunch guest blogger but mainly because his opinion on the news covers an important aspect of yesterday’s announcements that hasn’t been given enough attention by media outlets in my opinion: the unavoidable legal part of the equation.
“Amazon’s entrance into the business is enormously significant because it will dictate whether Apple or Google enter into a license for their own service or go the unlicensed path. If the labels take no action against Amazon, then expect Apple and Google to follow in their footsteps”, said Robertson.
“While the upload process can be a bit time consuming, that’s a small one-time price to pay for sidestepping expensive licensing bills and onerous restrictions. Apple will surely go this route if Amazon suffers no repercussions.”
In other words, put all eyes squarely on the record labels’ legal response to the debut of Amazon’s Cloud Drive and Cloud Player. My educated guess: we won’t have to wait for it long.
Robertson also pointed out that Amazon’s service, while a “solid version 1.0″, is no match for MP3Tunes, his latest venture, explaining that his music locker service works on iOS devices, WebOS and Windows Phone 7 handsets, offers radio stations, comes with auto-synching and offline playback and offers support for any music store, including iTunes, Napster and Zune.
That may be true, but expect Amazon to iterate fast. Also note that Robertson did not address the biggest pain point for his and other startups: the fact that Amazon has priced its locker service extremely aggressively, and will no doubt continue to do so going forward.
Robertson says there will no be immediate changes to current MP3Tunes pricing, although he was keen to note that the startup does offer 10 GB of storage free of charge, via invite.
mSpot CEO Daren Tsui, in turn, directly addressed the significant pricing gap and is taking action:
“We think we have a better service and in order to remove any price barriers we’re going to offer 5 GB of free storage. Going forward, we expect that the market for storage will be very commoditized and price-driven; but unique music services like mSpot will appeal more to music listeners looking for a complete experience on both Web and mobile,” Tsui said.
Similar to Robertson, Tsui thinks mSpot can compete with Amazon on a feature level, too, explaining that mSpot works on iPhone and Android devices, offers offline playback and generally boasts faster syncing and streaming. Tsui also points out that Verizon, AT&T and Sprint have been offering its mobile entertainment services to millions of their subscribers for years (under a white label agreement).
Finally, mSpot says it will soon unveil a new music discovery feature that Tsui claims will be “completely unique to the market”.
Now that you’ve had some time to let yesterday’s announcement sink in: does Amazon’s Cloud Drive appeal to you or do you think existing music locker service providers still have an edge?