Amazon to Apple: Oh, it is sooo ON!!!

Screenshot of Amazon.com browser window, showing the Cloud Player; foreground window is the Amazon MP3 Uploader, copying iTunes playlists into Amazon Cloud Drive.
Screenshot of Amazon.com browser window, showing the CloudPlayer; foreground window is the Amazon MP3 Uploader, copying iTunes playlists into Amazon CloudDrive.

This is why I love my job. Today, Amazon enabled two new features to their site: Amazon Cloud Player and Amazon Cloud Drive.

Cloud Drive is iDisk via Amazon storage, pretty much. You get 5 gigs of storage for free and can buy more as you need it. Your Cloud Drive can store anything…documents, photos, movies, music.

Cloud Player…lets you stream all of the music you’ve stored on your Cloud Drive. Annnnd everything you purchase via Amazon MP3 (from now on, anyway) is automatically added to your Cloud Drive and doesn’t count towards your storage limit. If you buy 100 gigs of Amazon MP3, you can play all of it for free without paying a dime. In fact, if you buy MP3s from Amazon, they’ll up your “regular” storage to 20 gigs anyway.

And there’s a helper app that’ll scan your existing iTunes library for music files that are compatible with the service. Click a button and all of it — or selected playlists — get uploaded to your Cloud Drive…even files you didn’t purchase through Amazon MP3.

The Cloud Player works through any web browser that supports Adobe Air. So: your Mac is in the club…but your iOS devices are out. But good news if you have an Android phone: the Amazon MP3 app will stream alllllll of your content just great.

Photo of the Amazon MP3 app for Android phones.
The Amazon MP3 app for Android devices...all of the music I've put into my CloudDrive is streamable. Even the stuff I didn't buy from Amazon!

I’ve already transferred four gigs of music to the cloud and yup, it works great. Any computer, anywhere there’s Internet, I get an iPod Nano’s worth of music. I’ve also downloaded the new Amazon MP3 app to my Android phone and…yup…there’s my music.

I tried opening the webplayer on my iPad and it warned me that I’ve got the wrong kind of browser. The player loads up, I can see my music, I can tap a Play button, it selects the track…but nothing happens.

iPad browser with the Amazon CloudPlayer.
You can visit your Cloud Player on the iPad, and it looks like it could be playing your music...but nothing will play. It seems to require Adobe Air/Flash.

Well, isn’t this very interesting!

I wrote a column last week about the new Amazon AppStore and how this signaled a start to some more direct and aggressive competition between Amazon and Apple as the elite seller of digital content and as the Great and Powerful Oz of your mobile experience. This is the second shoe to drop in that battle and there’s a centipede’s worth yet to come.

I’ve used this service for just a half an hour but yes, I already like it a lot. It’s a much simpler and more robust way to cloud-stream your online music purchases than anything else going at the moment. It’s a reason why I’ll continue to buy music from Amazon instead of iTunes.

And — God help me — it makes all Android phones that much more cool.

[Added: and to anyone who wonders where the money is for Amazon in this…you should think bigger. Think of the next Kindle as an entirely cloud-oriented media player. It always has ample local storage for books and a playlist or two, but it has an intimate connection with all of your Amazon purchases and can retrieve — or stream — any of them at any time. Someone deciding between an iPod Touch or a 7″ Kindle Color could be swayed by that kind of feature, couldn’t they?]

I’ve sent an email off to Amazon about any plans for an iOS player. I reckon they’ll make one if Apple will let them release it. Amazon’s always been about selling content, not operating systems and hardware and it’s always benefitted them to get the Kindle reader on as many devices as they can.

I actually first heard about this when I hit Amazon.com to buy a couple of things an hour ago. As soon as I saw it, and I set to work downloading things and uploading things and playing with it, I had to stop and think “Damn…I love my job. Apple versus Amazon is like Ali versus Frasier. This is two evenly-matched fighters and the outcome of their battle can only benefit consumers.

This is what I’ve been hoping for: a company with the skill, vision, clarity, and competence to truly compete with Apple. It wasn’t going to be Google. It was never going to be Google. I’m grinning at the thought of how high these two companies can push each other. What a great time to be a geek and to be alive.

70 thoughts on “Amazon to Apple: Oh, it is sooo ON!!!

  1. You have it just right, Andy. Amazon will push Apple to provide an even better service, which will push Amazon to improve, etc.

    Rinse & Repeat!

  2. Agreed, this is very exciting. Along with the Appstore, CloudPlayer makes the AndroKindle even more plausible.

  3. Andy, the service is great. But for those of us with standard 5MB DSL, the upload is painfully slow. 45 minutes for a 13 song Dylan album. I’ll be old and deaf by the time my 16GB library is done uploading.

  4. My question is where is the business model. Selling MP3s isn’t all that lucrative and having to support free streaming in perpetuity doesn’t strike me as a profitable business plan. Maybe it is a loss leader sort of thing, but I don’t really see MP3 sales driving more profitable sale that much. Maybe it is a Trojan horse of some variety to get Amazon’s foot in the door, but in the door of what? It’s good for the customer while it lasts though.

  5. Sounds pretty cool, but I was hoping to read about a dropbox-like client that automagically syncs.

  6. Let me ditto what Josh R. said. This service is great, and more free cloud storage is more free cloud storage. But take away the Cloud Player piece, and it’s just another web-based file manager. The simple elegance of Dropbox’s folder syncing is still far more useful in my day-to-day life.

  7. Way over the top, especially the last line.

    I think ‘music lockers’ like this will prove to be much less useful than people expect. I don’t even really understand the use case.

    If you have a smart phone, why wouldn’t your music be on there already? Same with a computer: how often are most people at a computer which doesn’t house their music library? Maybe at work, but then not many employers are happy their workers bang out their home music collection.

    3G data caps also limit steaming capabilities.

    This is something people like Andy and the tech media echo chamber get overexcited about but which most people will have very little use for.

    It’s just received wisdom that this is a fantastic thing; don’t just gasp and point, tell us why.

  8. @Steve – This isn’t meant to be taken personally, I just wonder what exactly your “action item” for Amazon may be with regard to your Internet speed. I ask because I see these sorts of statements quite frequently when someone’s technology doesn’t quite have the chops to handle something newer and shinier.

    If your statement was meant as a complaint about the service, I think your complaint is misdirected. You should instead point to your DSL provider for their horrible upload speeds, or your general area for lack of choice in service providers. Amazon can’t be held accountable for the user experience of those users who don’t meet the requirements.

    If, however, you think the upload speed issue is related to Amazon’s implementation, the carry on.

    Personally the one drawback I have encountered (and it’s a pretty big one) is that currently the service doesn’t support multiple-select-and-download. I have to select a file, click the download button, then unselect and repeat the process for all the files I want to transfer from the cloud to my local computer. That seems like a pretty glaring shortcoming to me.

    Overall, I’m impressed at the value and potential, particularly since I’m not an Apple product user.

  9. I’m also unimpressed for the most part. I already have more songs on my phone than my battery life can sustain. The best part about this, as it relates to my life, is the competition. Also, I do like the easy and abundant backup option for those who aren’t using one yet. However, without a syncing tool as mentioned above, I’m just not sure of it’s longevity.

  10. I am not sure I see the epic value here… I have plenty of storage at home and wifi for streaming my music to any player so this seems of limited value at home.

    The mobile carriers either have bandwidth caps or are moving in that direction. seems to me that any “mobile” streaming will include worrying about how much of my monthly mobile allotment I have/will use for playing my music. Maybe its just me, but I like to listen to music worry free…

  11. “It appears that you are attempting to use Amazon Cloud Player from outside the U.S. This service is intended for U.S. customers only.” :-(

  12. It seems pretty likely that Apple won’t allow an iOS version of Amazon’s Cloud Player. It seems equally likely that the iOS jailbreak community will produce one. (Possibly several.)

    I’ve jailbroken my iPhones once or twice over the years. I download a couple of skins, a couple of apps…then I un-jailbreak it again, seeing no really compelling reason to keep it jailbroken.

    A Cloud Player app might be that reason. Yes, I have a 32gb iPhone and I regularly carry 10-13gb of music with me. Yet I would love to either replace or extend that with a cloud-based solution.

    Why? Because, at least for me, syncing with iTunes is about as appealing as lancing a boil. With a butter knife. It takes forever: If I actually want to use my phone in the daytime, syncing has to take place at night. Plus, it actually works properly about 10% of the time. Many times, in the morning, I discover that the sync I set in motion the previous night was stopped dead with a dialog box. And iTunes hates my photos: no matter if I have a large chunk of memory left on the phone, it ALWAYS tells me there’s not enough space for some (or all) of my photos. And at least half the time it tries to get out of syncing some portion of my music, too.

    Sorry about the extended rant. As you can tell, that’s been simmering a while. I love my iPhone. And I consider iTunes to be…passable. I’ve been using it since it was SoundJam by Casaday and Greene. I loved it for years, but I think somewhere around the time video was added, iTunes entered Fat Elvis territory.

    But it also depends on what Apple’s got up their sleeves for their own cloud-locker-thingy.

  13. Sure sure, sounds cool. But this cloud mania is getting way out of control. Don’t we still have a loooong way to go in terms of network infrastructure before we can be streaming everything all the time? Besides which, I need a hell of a lot more assurance that net neutrality will have some teeth before I can feel good about making myself that much more dependent on ubiquitous, uninterrupted, high-bandwidth connectivity. To say nothing of privacy and security and Joe Lieberman’s kill-switch…

    Maybe this makes me the digital-age equivalent of some kind of backwoods survivalist, but I tend to equate local storage with security and independence. I don’t trust the cloud yet, or anyway I don’t trust the pipemasters who control my access to it. How many cellular carriers are we down to in the U.S. now, anyway? I’ve lost track. Is it three? Two? Competition between Apple & Amazon is great, but I’m less interested in that than I am in the diminishing competition among the telecoms.

  14. @Michael actually, no. My iTunes library is big enough that I don’t carry it all on my phone. In addition, we share that library among multiple computers, so when I leave the house, I don’t take it with me. Plus, iTunes syncing on PCs is terrible. So, I’ve moved to using Rdio instead of the iPod app, even though I already own many of the songs I’m trying to stream. So this sort of streaming music locker sounds like a great idea. For me, anyway. Not everything need appeal to all people.

  15. Mild edit: I hope you mean “Ali versus *Frazier*” ’cause if Apple is the champ and Amazon is Kelsey Grammer, you’re going to be cleaning up more than tossed salad and scrambled eggs …

  16. I really hope Amazon does spur Apple to provide better cloud storage for files and music. But geez, is it just my system or has anyone else noticed the very noticeably poor sound quality from the Cloud Player compared to the same audio files played through iTunes?

  17. Where’s the syncing aDisk that I just throw things into and it appears on all my other computers?MobileMe, this steaming pile is NOT. C’mon Andy, you’re usually so spot on. What happened today?

  18. Please correct your article. The MP3s play just fine on iOS – you just have to hit the download button instead of the play button. That makes iOS a 2nd class citizen perhaps, but still, that’s a pretty minor workaround. Word will spread and plenty of iOS folks will use this service.

  19. As already commented, US only. It appears the cloud is only prepared to precipitate in particular countries.

  20. Yeah, what Josh said. Excitement about cloud-based media makes no sense to me. Storage space gets cheaper and cheaper. Bandwidth, it’s pretty clear, is headed in the opposite direction. True, I can’t put my entire iTunes collection on my iPhone yet. But I also don’t need years’ worth of listening with me at all times. People haven’t really gone for streaming services in big numbers. I love amazon but I don’t really see this changing the game (nor will Apple’s storage locker if it comes).

    It’ll be fun to see a whole new genre of RIAA whining though. It’s already begun.

  21. As @chrbal mentioned — just click on “download” and it’ll start playing music on your iOS device. It’s not ideal, but Amazon is their initial priority for good reason.

  22. There’s surely no reason why Amazon couldn’t at least enable rudimentary iPad audio playback support through HTML5 in Safari—if it wanted to.

  23. Meh

    Am I really so old and out of touch?

    I don’t see any upside to this type of service, ok, besides backup, but why do we need another Carbonite or Dropbox?

    Please explain to me, what exactly is better in streaming music I own, that I could just play locally, and as the crooks at ISPs/Telcos/etc make more and more caps and restrictions, likely pay extra for the ‘privilege’ to listen to my own music? Really?

    Why would I ever want to take up any of my limited allowed capped data plan to listen to music I already own that I can easily play on local storage (phone, laptop, desktop, etc)???

    Shrug.

    This seems like a huge step backwards to me.

  24. AT&T and Verizon will love cloud streaming, when users are getting hit with 10+ gig overages on their mobile data plans…

  25. I think the quality or enjoyment of Amazon’s service is less interesting than the behind-the-scenes story. Apple has had plenty of time to build out such a service if technical issues were the only obstacle. However, in parallel with setting up their data center, they’ve been busy wringing licensing out of the music labels.

    Amazon was able to get to market sooner by forgoing this step and hoping for the best (or betting on their lawyers being up to the task). In a real sense, the Amazon vs. Apple story is a bit like winning an air race around the world by deciding that they’d likely not be bothered for flying over countries with whom they’d failed to negotiate air rights. This while competitors assumed they needed to take longer routes or waste time with such negotiations.

  26. I have all my music (~20 gigs of it) and photos (several gigs worth) on my iPhone, which accompanies me wherever I go. Can someone explain to me what on Earth I (or anyone else with an iPhone) need this service for? Even the few super-fanatic music lovers with a 100GB library of music would still be better off (in terms of user experience) carrying an iPod classic, IMO.

  27. I read somewhere yesterday that iCab on iPhone/iPad played the CloudPlayer fine. They appear to be blocking mobile Safari.

  28. rdio uses air for its player on the desk but managed to eek out an iOS app… there is more to this than just the raw technology…. a lot more. They are leveraging perceptions to create false discussions and concerns where there are none…. this isnt about flash on iOS but that is what folks are trying desperately to constrain the conversation to… and ultimately, isnt about cloud storage…. its about the metalayers above it, the mashup of social, storage, media, and all of it…. my first reaction was the same as Andys but in truth, this is just a beginning, and somethin tells me WWDC is going to see some VERY interesting stuff in IOS and MacOS along the cloud lines. its about deep integration, something nobody has really done. but it is about to.

  29. The thing I like about Amazon as Apple’s chief competitor is they both respect my privacy. I don’t feel I’m being data-mined constantly.

  30. Think of the next Kindle as an entirely cloud-oriented media player. It always has ample local storage for books and a playlist or two, but it has an intimate connection with all of your Amazon purchases and can retrieve — or stream — any of them at any time.

    So the “next Kindle”, in your mind, will be basically crippled every time it’s not on WiFi?

    (And the idea that people want it to also be their stereo is dubious. Very dubious.)

    Because WhisperNet isn’t going to support that – not for anything like free, at least. Amazon doesn’t get free EVDO bandwidth, after all; that free 3G link on the Kindles is subsidized by book sales, and exists basically only to make more of them (and subscriptions to magazines and the Times).

  31. Count me in with the skeptical. While “always-on” connectivity is spreading, connectivity providers (at least in North America) are trying ever-harder to clamp down or monetize high-bandwidth uses like Netflix. Streaming services are great for the companies charging you for the data transferred, not so great for those of us stuck paying for it.

    @David K: “Amazon can’t be held accountable for the user experience of those users who don’t meet the requirements.” Technically true, but for those of us who are stuck with limited bandwidth and not a lot of choice in providers, this comes across as a rather annoying “let them eat cake” response. If a large percentage of the public doesn’t have the connectivity to support a service, I think it’s perfectly fair to question the value of the service, even if the lack of connectivity isn’t the service provider’s fault; it means the market for the service is going to be limited.

  32. Surprised nobody has mentioned audio QUALITY in this discussion. (which is a sad commentary, actually). Amazon’s mp3s have abysmal sound quality, in the cloud or not. AM radio fidelity- just what I’ve been craving.

    Andy, if you’re buying all, or even most, of your music from Amazon, you have no idea what you’re missing…

  33. I agree that Amazon is the only player that can compete with Apple at this point. And they are very Apple like (sans the design) they sell stuff already, they have tons of customer accounts, they are trusted. they have made baby steps in to the hardware, improving the kindle with each rev, adding new features only when they have the old ones working flawlessly. Is it an iPad? No is it damn good as a ereader, yes.

    This is a stake in the ground, and i am sure it will improve. they have to have something to start with, and to show to the media guys who don’t get it. Also i think music is just a warm up to video.

    The real annoying thing? Why don’t my previous Amazon purchases auto populate when i log in. Other annoying thing, one log in but three separate collections of stuff, Amazon, kindle and not the cloud, this needs to be condensed into one interface.

    Can’t wait to see what Apple comes out with now.

  34. Doesn’t work internationally at all, which is, as they say, a heavy bummer.

    This is always the case, actually. None of the “it” and “cool” music services work seamlessly. I realize that most people are not like me and traveling from country-to-country frequently and based in the US credit-and-payment-wise while living in Europe, but still…

  35. There is no problem creating an account on amazon.com with a European credit card. There is also no problem uploading and downloading files with such an account.

    But playing does not work (unless you create an ssh tunnel or VPN to a server in the US, most web hosting services do allow for ssh tunnels).

  36. It makes sense that this sort of competition would come from Amazon instead of Google. Google’s end customer is really their advertisers, with the secondary customers being the publishers (game, website) who receive revenues from those advertisers. Of that second group, they themselves are their own biggest customer.

    Amazon, on the other hand, is a consumer-oriented company like Apple. Google’s made a great mobile OS, but since they’re not selling it, it’s not a true competition with Apple; if anything, Android has helped solidify the market that iOS opened up, which has led to huge gains for both companies.

    That being said, it remains to be seen whether Amazon–if they do get more aggressive with later generations of the Kindle–will actually be a competitor to the iPad or if those offerings will simply serve to expand the market even faster.

  37. “Amazon’s mp3s have abysmal sound quality, in the cloud or not. AM radio fidelity- just what I’ve been craving.”

    AM radio? Do you have golden ears or a forked tongue?

  38. This would solve my problem of having different music libraries scattered across many devices. But once bandwidth metering becomes the rule, it’s back to local storage.

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