Amazon Cloud Drive Challenges ITunes

Amazon Cloud Drive Challenges ITunes

Amazon today challenged Apple’s domination of digitally downloaded music with its “Cloud Drive” service, giving access to a music collection from any computer or Android smartphone.

The Seattle-based Internet retailer said users can upload music, or any other file, to Cloud Drive, and then access the data through a web browser or Android handset via its new “Cloud Player” program. The new service will not be available on Apple’s iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch, but users will be able to upload their entire iTunes library to Cloud.

“Now, whether at work, home, or on the go, customers can buy music from Amazon MP3, store it in the cloud and play it anywhere,” said Bill Carr, Amazon’s vice-president of music and movies. He also noted that the service does away with the hassle of synching different devices and shuttling files around on USB keys.

Amazon’s move into music increases pressure on competitors Apple and Google, which are preparing similar digital locker products. The service, backed by the might of one the world’s most powerful Internet companies, could also spell trouble for smaller offerings that provide cloud music storage, including mSpot and MP3Tunes.

Amazon admits it’s been losing the battle for digital listeners, calling its share of the market “insignificant,” compared to Apple, and hopes the new service can help level the playing field. Apple’s iTunes remains unrivaled in terms of music sales, but Amazon may gain traction with the convenience of music purchases going directly to a user’s Cloud Drive.

One advantage over Apple’s iTunes is that a collection will not be lost if a user’s hard drive crashes.

The cloud-based media service is well timed since people are increasingly using smartphones as music listening devices. Growth in cloud-based music streaming will be driven by the explosion of smartphone usage, according to analysts at research company ABI, especially as devices become more robust and enhanced with multimedia capabilities.

While streaming services themselves are expected to rise in terms of digital music consumption, media lockers like Amazon’s retain the appeal of ownership while allowing users to access content from a variety of devices.

Cloud services like Amazon’s and upcoming ones by Google and Apple will undoubtedly transform the digital musical market, but record companies are apprehensive overall, with protracted discussions over issues of rights and licenses threatening to slow down the rollout of these services. Amazon’s own launch comes as the company is still working out legal agreements with record companies, and some parties are not happy with Amazon’s haste to beat out the competition.

“We are disappointed that the locker service that Amazon is proposing is unlicensed by Sony Music,” said a Sony spokeswoman. How legal issues may affect the new service and its customers remain to be seen.

As an introductory offer, the Cloud Player is free to Amazon account holders, but with only 5-gigabytes of storage space — enough for around 1,000 songs. Buying an MP3 album from Amazon automatically upgrades the space to 20-gigabytes and users can buy more space at approximately $1 per gigabyte per year with a $20 minimum. Photos, documents and videos can also be stored.

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