When Apple purchased LaLa last year, my favorite music streaming service ever, I have to say I was upset. LaLa had a wonderful model which put their users and the music they liked into a wonderfully social system. Unfortunately for LaLa, that system didn’t make much sense from a money-making standpoint and Apple bought them for the technology and the experience they had with streaming media.
I figured with such an accomplished head start, Apple could flip a music streaming service in no time. They had the people who created the ideal, just do more of that? Not so fast mister, this is Apple we are talking about and nothing at Apple gets released without being perfect.
Cut-to more than a year later
Last week Amazon released 2 free products, Amazon Cloud Player & Amazon Cloud Drive. The basic gist of both is storage online for all your media — in the cloud. Cloud Player is all about audio (at the moment) and Cloud Drive is all about all other files. Confused? Maybe this video will help.
Sounds pretty incredible right? So how does it stack up against all the other cloud based storage systems out there? For files it is pretty good, it is definitely not as easy to use as DropBox, but that may change rapidly as Amazon figures out what they have. The major advantage of DropBox over Cloud Drive is finder integration on both Mac & Win computers. Not having to keep a web browser window open or download some strange “uploader” is a real advantage.
For music, the service is basically unmatched at the time of this writing. Being able to upload mp3s and have them instantly available for playing online or to be downloaded on another computer is wonderful. The Amazon Cloud Player itself is relatively simple in its design. It has a big yellow play button and does a fantastic job at streaming audio files smoothly. The sound quality is the same as you would expect from a desktop application.
But what about all us people who have bought lots of songs from iTunes? We’re out in the cold, right? Amazon Cloud Player uploads and plays those flawlessly too! What?! You heard me. As long as the AAC track isn’t copy protected (ie – not a 128kbps .m4a file you downloaded from iTunes 2 years ago or earlier) it will upload, play, and have all its tags. This is wonderful functionality for all the folks like me who drift from one music service to another. Amazon has smartly not excluded its competitors users.
Unfortunately if you rip your music into FLAC, APE, Apple Lossless, OGG, or any other formats; you are going to have to convert them to MP3 or M4A if you want to listen to them online. If you just want to upload them, they can be uploaded and accessed through Cloud Drive, but Amazon Cloud Player will not recognize them as audio.
Time to give up on Apple?
So is Apple so late to the party that it will be impossible to catch up? Far from it. Apple will release their cloud music service soon and it will be a game changer, of that I have no doubt. For all of us iPhone and iPod users, the service will also be compatible with our devices (Amazon’s Mobile Cloud Player is not yet available for Apple products). But what Amazon’s service does do, is offer a glimpse in to the future of cloud based services. It may not be perfect yet, but it does change how we store and consume media. Best of all this gives Apple a high bar to jump over — competition is never a bad thing.