It’s been talked about for years. Even before iTunes revolutionized the music industry when it was first released in 2001, people have said the future is in cloud computing. Local hard drives will be obsolete and all of your files will be stored in massive data centers by companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple. It’s now 2011 and my files are still kept safe and sound on multiple hard drives, flash drives, and SD cards. I have a smartphone and I’m connected all the time, but I still felt the need to buy a 32 GB microSD card to hold my massive music collection. Several companies now feel the time is right to revolutionize music storage and are rolling out their own services, which allow you to store your music collection on their servers.
A few months ago we wrote an article about Amazon’s Cloud Drive. Their system gives each user 5 GB for free, with each additional GB being $1 all the way up to 1,000 GB. Users must upload their current music collection, while new music they buy (from Amazon of course) will automatically be added in. The music will then be streamed down to an Android or iOS device via a dedicated application, or to any other device that has a web browser. Amazon’s solution is an easy and relatively cheap option for people who don’t want to spend their money on expensive SD cards. However, their services are not perfect. People flocked to and overwhelmed Amazon’s site when they offered Lady Gaga’s newest album for only $.99. This caused some album downloads to be incredibly slow, with others not working at all. This wasn’t a crash of their Cloud Drive service, but if they want us to trust them with our music they better assure us their servers are reliable and can withstand heavy traffic. Three days after the incident, Amazon decided to offer Gaga’s new album again for $.99. This time with a promise of no problems.
Google recently announced their answer to cloud music storage as well. When it’s released to the public, Music Beta will allow users to upload 20,000 songs to Google’s servers to be streamed down to any web browser or Android device running Android 2.2 or higher. With that much storage available for free, the only drawback from Google’s offering is that you can only stream the music to a total of 8 devices. While this probably won’t affect most people, it could pose a problem for those with multiple phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops. The service will only be free while it’s in beta, but going by Gmail’s five year run in beta that could mean several years of free music storage. Google has not announced pricing for when it decides to remove the beta label.
While Amazon and Google have now had their cloud music systems in the public for awhile, Apple has just joined the party. At their Worldwide Developers Conference this week, Apple released iCloud. Unlike Music Beta and Amazon Cloud Drive, iCloud doesn’t stream any music down to devices. Instead, Apple is using the cloud to seamlessly sync music between all of a user’s devices. By making deals with record labels, Apple has the ability to store a centralized song database in their cloud so the songs can be instantly downloaded onto Macs, iPhones, iPods, and iPads. Music bought from iTunes will instantly be downloaded to all of a user’s devices, instead of just the one they’re on. With iTunes Match, users can even use iCloud to sync their non-iTunes music library with their devices, though this will cost $25 a year.
With each company taking different approaches to cloud music, it will be interesting to see which turns out to be the most popular. Apple’s iCloud is unique in the mix as it doesn’t offer any kind of streaming, keeping a restriction on the size of library you can have. Amazon has their music store available with simple integration with their Cloud Drive, but the cost could easily get high with a large music collection. Music Beta on the other hand is a free service for now, but there’s no telling what they’ll decide to charge once it leaves beta. No matter which of these companies come out on top, it’s safe to say the time has finally come for us to take cloud computing seriously.