Sony today announced its “Music Unlimited” cloud-based music service for Android, joining an already fiercely-competitive streaming music field.
The Tokyo-based company’s subscription-based music service is available on all smartphones running Android 2.1 or later. The app is free to download from Google’s marketplace, but users must pay a monthly fee to access the service’s features.
Sony offers two different pay scales, $4 and $10 per month, including a one-month free trial.
Users who opt for the cheaper plan can expect an Internet radio service, much like Pandora, plus a scan-and-match feature similar to Apple’s iTunes Match. The feature allows Sony to scan a person’s music library — including iTunes — and then let him or her to listen to those songs on any Android handset without having to upload the songs to Sony’s server.
The more expensive service, at $10 per month, offers both the radio and scan-and-stream, and also allows users to listen to songs they don’t already own. Premium customers have access to the seven million songs in Sony’s Qriocity library, including music from all four major record labels.
Users must stream songs to their smartphone or computer, rather than downloading.
Sony’s jump from the PC and PlayStation 3 to the mobile field has already put pressure on other companies looking to make a push in the cloud. Both Amazon’s Cloud Player and Google Music lack licensing rights from record companies and publishers. Without those rights, users must upload their music libraries to each company’s cloud, a process which can take hours to complete depending on the collection.
Sony’s Music Unlimited even one-ups cloud front-runner Apple’s iCloudby allowing users to stream music they don’t already own. ICloud users are restricted to only streaming songs they own, a huge disadvantage against the enormous selection offered on Sony’s service.
Though Sony appears to be toe-and-toe with the iCloud service, it could falter because of pricing. ICloud users who have purchased most, if not all, of their music through iTunes don’t have to pay a dime to stream any of their music. If a user wants to stream music not purchased through iTunes, he or she must pay a yearly fee of $25.
A Sony Music Unlimited user, by contrast, can spend between $48 and $120 per year to access the service. There are more songs and content for users to access, but Sony could be in trouble if consumers choose a cloud music service with their wallets and not their ears. Apple’s service maxes out at $25 per year.
Sony may also have to contend with the high-profile data breaches that rocked the company for much of this spring. Consumer confidence may be shaken in the company, and potential users may wait and see until the company has truly shored up its security.
The race to the cloud is in full swing and Sony has brought its A-game. Its entry into the the mobile music offering will no doubt put pressure on its competitors to step up their games as well.