This morning Amazon beat Google and Apple to the punch, launching a new cloud-based music service that gives every user free storage space for music, video and image files. The new product allows you to upload your music on Amazon's servers and listen to it anywhere with an Internet connection (including your smartphone). Users start off with 5 GB of free space and can add more for $1 per GB. It's compatible with Macs, PCs, and Android phones via Amazon's MP3 App (notably, no iPhone availability yet). Also, if you buy an MP3 album from Amazon, not only will the MP3s not count against your storage, but you'll be automatically upgraded to 20 GB of storage, as well.
We tried it out this morning and were impressed. At a fast clip, the service scans your iTunes account and uploads your selected music to its Cloud Drive. At first listen, it did not seem to diminish the sound quality of iTunes tracks with standard bit rates of 128 kbps. The interface is very straightforward, taking the iTunes metadata and organizing songs into the same album, playlist, artist groupings as before. The service definitely helps Android phones stay competitive with the iPhone—given that music integration has been Android's "Achilles Heel" as Greg Sterling at Search Engine Land notes.
Reviews in the tech press are mixed. While Mashable's Ben Parr gushes over its intuitive functionality saying it "could make iTunes obsolete," All Things D's Peter Kafka says it "isn't earth-shaking" because it doesn't let you share music or help you find and listen to music you don't already have. Meanwhile Sarah Perez at Read Write Web notes that a number of startups offer cloud-based music storage so Amazon's service isn't very innovative. However, it's worth noting that the ones she refers to aren't free.
A lingering question about the new service is its legality. A major roadblock to Google and Apple introducing music streaming services has been protests from major record labels. Google's and Apple's goal is to make music seamlessly available across any number of devices. But, as Claire Cain Miller at The New York Times notes, "music labels and publishers would prefer that listeners buy a new copy of a song everywhere they want to listen to it."
Another issue labels have is that the streaming services—and this definitely applies to Amazon—have no idea if the music users are uploading was obtained legally. That hangup led to 14 EMI-affiliated labels suing MP3tunes.com in 2007 for doing exactly what Amazon is doing, giving storage to "unauthorized" downloads. While TechDirt's Mike Masnick thinks the service's legality is far from settled, Craig Pape, director of music at Amazon, tells the Times he's not worried.
“We don’t need a license to store music,” he said. “The functionality is the same as an external hard drive.”
Meanwhile "several executives at major labels" told the Times they're "concerned" about Amazon's cloud service. Time will tell if that concern is worth a lawsuit with the country's largest online retailer.