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Race to the Cloud

by April 01, 2011
George, dont sue us. Cloud Drive, Cloud City. Its a gimme.

George, don't sue us. Cloud Drive, Cloud City. It's a gimme.

The record labels have been traditionally and chronically behind the curve of technology. This is an industry that doesn't mind stepping on artists like bugs and living fat off their creations while the actual musician languishes in abject poverty. Whenever a new technology comes out, the first thing they try to do is either stop it, profit from it, or both. With the cloud, they are at it again.

If you have a twitter account or visited the Internet at all in the last few days you've heard that Amazon has released a new cloud-based service. This service, dubbed Cloud Drive, gives users 5 gigs of free cloud based storage for them to use to store anything they like. If they purchase an album from the Amazon store, they automatically get bumped up to 20 gigs (for a year) and their Amazon bought music doesn't count against their storage quota. Prices for more than 5 gigs are on a $1 per gig per year basis (so 20 gigs costs $20 a year). Full information here.

While you can store anything on your Cloud Drive, the real issue for now is music. Amazon's Cloud Player will allow you to listen to any of your music from any computer or device with a browser (provided you are in the US). There is also an app for Android devices and sure to be one for Apple products if Steve Jobs doesn't crush it under his jack-booted heel. The big labels, of course, aren't happy with the cloud. Frankly, when they look up at a summer sky, all the see are dollars they aren't pocketing. But does their argument have merit?

Not really. At first Amazon said they would release the service and negotiate the licenses later. Now it is saying that they don't need licenses to provide storage. The labels are currently just commenting they wished Amazon would have asked for permission first. The problem, of course, is timing. If you can be the first to bring a product to market, one that grabs the consumer attention, you stand to gain a lot. You don't have to tell this to Apple and their growing family of i-products. The iPod was first and no one has really done much to catch up. Again with the iPhone and the iPad, they've been first and have prospered because of it. With Google and Apple both working on their own Cloud-based products for years, hampered by reportedly endless negotiations with the record labels, Amazon went with the "ask forgiveness, not permission" approach.

This is likely to work out very well for them. The labels are surely locked in conferences with teams of lawyers to figure out how they can squeeze more money out of this (though it's unlikely to work). Amazon isn't actually providing any content, they are simply giving consumers a place to store their files. This is the crux of Amazon's defense. Since it isn't a streaming service, they don't need licenses. Their Cloud Player shouldn't be much of an issue either as it doesn't let users stream files to anywhere else. Believe me, if it did, I'd be using it to store all the AV Rant podcast episodes. 

Since you have to sign in to your Amazon account to use the service, an account that has credit-card and personal information that an identity thief would love to get their hands on, sharing accounts is unlikely at best. The only real gray area I see with Amazon's Cloud Drive is that they aren't counting music bought at the MP3 store against users storage totals. This indicates that they are leaving the music on their drives and basically hotlinking back to it from each person's Cloud Drive. If the labels try to attack them on this front, though, all they'd have to do is to move a file to each Cloud Drive. Again, it's unlikely to deter or shut down Amazon's new service.

Currently, there isn't an Amazon Cloud Video Player though which means you'll have to download the file to play it. This brings up a number of questions. Will Amazon add native video playing? Picture viewing? Document viewing/editing? It seems likely. (Editor's note: This is also a place where Apple may, though coming later to the table, be able to trump Amazon's new service with their own). With the Android app you can edit as well as play music. As of now, the service is very basic with nothing but storage and a music player available. The future is sure to hold more.

One of the thoughts is that we will move away from physical media and strictly to the cloud. That doesn't seem very likely right now for a number of reasons:

  1. Country Lockouts

    I'm currently in Australia but I still have my old Amazon account. With it, I can access the Cloud Drive but I can't use the Cloud Player. This means that if I want to play my music, I have to download it. I can do that easier with Dropbox or other services that also provide automatic backups.

  2. Bandwidth

    It's one thing to store your HD movies on Amazon's drive, but will you really be able to view them in full, glorious HD even when they come out with a player? What about music? Currently the Cloud Player only supports MP3 or AAC files. That means no WAV, no FLAC, and certainly no multi-channel formats like DVD-A or SACD. When they add support (if they do), will you have the bandwidth? Doubtful.

  3. Data Caps

    While fairly unknown in the US, most of the rest of the world deal with data caps. And not the 250 gigs that people in the US complain about but much lower, starting around 5 gigs or less in some cases. If the US providers have their way, they'd move to a similar system. Even with the large caps that the US has, you still can run into problems if you are storing all your content in the cloud. 

Are we ready for cloud-based storage? Absolutely. Anyone that has tried any of these services will tell you how great they can be. When I discovered Dropbox, my head swam. Here was a service that let me keep the same content on multiple computers and devices and on a cloud-based drive and automatically backed it up. When they allowed you to retrieve accidentally deleted content, I knew I was in love. Amazon isn't offering anything so fully featured yet. It is simply a drive for you to store your files. It will let you add and delete as you want. It is simply an external drive that isn't under your desk with a music player attached. While far from revolutionary, it is certainly one thing, though - controversial. Not in its application or function, but in how a company thumbed its nose at the music industry and will probably get away with it. As they say down here in Australia: "Good on them."


About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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