The last few months have seen the emergence of three different services from big players designed to give users cloud-based access to their personal music libraries. With smartphones, tablets or iPads, laptops, and home computers, it’s no wonder that consumers are looking for a better way to store and have access to their often large libraries of digital music. Amazon was the first to announce its Cloud Drive storage service a few months back, and it’s the only cloud-based music service that is completely available to users as of today. Google recently announced its highly-anticipated Google Music Beta service, but like the name suggests, it’s still in an invite-only beta testing stage, although anyone can request an invite and hope to be chosen. To round out the group of three, Steve Jobs announced Apple’s iCloud service last week at WWDC, which offers a host of cloud-storage features including the speculated iTunes integration. While it will be hard to tell which service will win out in the end until all three are available for full use, there are significant difference between the services that users and music lovers should be aware of.
Price and availability
Amazon Cloud Drive
Amazon is offering 5GB of storage for free to anyone with an Amazon account, but we all know that that will only cover a fraction of most users’ libraries. You can store 20GB for $20 a year, and extra storage beyond that costs about $1 per GB in increments of 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1,000. If you have less than 20GB of music it’s not a bad deal, but if your library is larger than that you might be paying more than you’d like. One plus is that songs purchased through the Amazon MP3 store won’t count towards your storage limits. Like we mentioned before, the Amazon service is the only one that’s fully available to the public currently.
Google Music Beta
The Google service is invitation-only for now, but will roll out to consumers in the near future and intrigued Google fans can always request an invite to test the service. Music Beta is the only totally free service, but it’s unclear whether that will stay true when the service is fully unveiled to the public. Because of Google’s history of keeping things free, we expect the service to come in at a very user-friendly price tag. We wouldn’t be surprised if Music Beta offered a limited amount of storage to users for free, similar to Amazon.
The full functionality of iCloud won’t be available until the fall, so we have a while to wait before we will see the success or failure of Apple’s foray into storing music in the cloud. In the big picture, iCloud will be free, but there’s a small catch. While iCloud will offer unlimited iTunes storage in the cloud for free, many users may want to use a companion service called iTunes Match to take full advantage of the service. Initially, iCloud will scan your iTunes library and put any song purchased in iTunes into the cloud. Other songs can be manually uploaded, or users can use iTunes Match, which will try to find a match for all of the non-iTunes songs in your library in the iTunes store. As long as there is a match in the store, you will get all the benefits of having the song in iCloud, just like a song you purchased through iTunes. The matching service will cost users $25 each year.
Getting your music in the cloud
Amazon Cloud Drive
When you first join the Cloud Drive service on Amazon, in the Cloud Player you will be asked to download an Adobe Air app to select and upload your files. We had continued trouble with this app and when it did work, it was painfully slow. We soon discovered that the Cloud Drive site also had another option that used an explorer window to select and upload files. This option worked out better, but if you have a large music library, the uploading process is still going to take a significant amount of time, most likely days. When using the explorer window option, which was faster, we also found that using this method means none of the vital metadata from your songs and albums gets pulled in. This can leave you with countless songs by “Unknown” and no one wants that.
Google Music Beta
Google’s approach here is very similar to Amazon’s, but seems to have fewer problems. Users must download a small piece of Music Manager software to begin the process of uploading their libraries onto Music Beta. The software worked smoothly when we tested it, but users have no control over what songs get uploaded other than choosing between the iTunes folder or ‘Other Folders.’ Refining that control will be something that Google will want to fix in the near future. Also much like Amazon, the upload process is terribly slow. For a music library of thousands of songs, expect it to take several days, if not a whole week, to upload your entire library.
Apple has a clear advantage here from what we’ve first heard about the service. While you will have to be on an iOS device or have iTunes running on a PC, which means no streaming through an internet browser, iCloud won’t require any slow uploading process like the competitors. The service will simply scan your iTunes for songs you bought through the iTunes store, or use iTunes Match ($25/year) to find songs that you acquired elsewhere. There will be an option to manually upload songs if you don’t want to fork over the money for iTunes Match, but overall the process here seems like it will be much faster for users.