Why Apple Should Be Worried About Amazon’s Cloud Player [Opinion]


Amazon's Cloud Drive and Cloud Player on a Mac
Amazon's Cloud Drive and Cloud Player on a Mac

This is a guest post by Paul Lamere, an executive at The Echo Nest, a music intelligence company located in Somerville, Mass. It was originally published here.

For the last year we’ve heard rumors of how both Apple and Google were getting close to releasing music locker services that allow music listeners to upload their music collection to the cloud giving them the ability to listen to their music everywhere.

So it was a big surprise when the first major Internet player to launch a music locker service wasn’t Google or Apple, but instead was Amazon.  Last week, with little fanfare, Amazon released its Amazon Cloud Drive, a cloud-based music locker that includes the Amazon Cloud Player allowing people to listen to their music anywhere.

Amazon’s entry into the music locker is a big deal and should be particularly worrisome for Google and Apple.  Amazon brings some special sauce to the music locker world that will make them a formidable competitor:

  1. Amazon can keep a secret – For the last year, we’ve heard much about the rumored Google and Apple locker services, but not a peep about the Amazon service.  The first time people heard about the Amazon Locker service was when Amazon announced it on its front page.  It says a lot about a large organization that can launch a major new product without rumors circulating in the industry.
  2. Amazon isn’t afraid to say “F*ck You” to the labels.  While Apple and Google are negotiating licensing rights for the locker service, Amazon just went ahead and released their locker without any special music license.  Amazon Director of Music Craig Pape told Billboard.biz “We don’t believe we need licenses to store the customers’ files. We look at it the same way as if someone bought an external hard drive and copy files on there for backup.”
  3. Amazon knows how to do the ‘cloud thing’ – Amazon has been leading the pack in cloud computing for years.  They know how to build reliable, cost-effective cloud-based solutions, they’ve been doing it longer than anyone. Thousands of applications  have been deployed in the Amazon cloud from big corporations to successful startups like  dropbox. Compare to Apple’s track record for MobileMe. Of course Google knows how to do this stuff too, but they haven’t been immune to problems.
  4. Amazon knows about discovery –  Amazon’s focus on discovery makes them a much better online bookstore than any other bookstore.  They use all sorts of ways to connect a reader with a book.  Collaborative filtering, book reviews, customer lists,  content search,  best seller lists , special deals.  These techniques help get their readers deep into the long tail of books.  Discovery is in Amazon’s genes.   Contrast that to how Youtube helps you find videos, or how well Apple’s Genius helps you find music.  Currently Amazon is providing no discovery tools yet with the Amazon Cloud Music Player, but you can bet that they will be adding these features soon.
  5. Amazon understands the importance of metadata – Amazon has always placed a premium on collecting high quality metadata about their media.  That’s why they bought IMDB, and created SoundUnwound. That’s why when I uploaded 700 albums to the Amazon cloud,  Amazon found album art and metadata for every single one of them. Compare that to iTunes which after nearly 10 years, still can’t seem to find album art for 90% of my music collection.
  6. Amazon does APIs – this is what I’m most excited about.  Imagine if and when Amazon releases the Amazon Cloud Music API that lets a developer build applications around the content stored in a music locker.  This will open the door for a myriad of applications from music visualizers, playlisting engines, event recommenders, and taste sharing, on our phones, on our set top boxes, on our computers..   Amazon has lead the way in making everything they do available via APIs. When they release the Amazon Cloud Music API, I think we’ll see a new level of creativity around music exploration, discovery, organization and listening.
  7. Amazon has done this before – The Kindle platform has already allowed you to do for books what the Amazon music locker does for music.  You can buy content in the Amazon store, keep it in your locker and consume it on any device.  This is not new tech for Amazon, they’ve been doing this for years already.
  8. Amazon has lots of customers – Last month Steve said he thought that Apple had more customer accounts than Amazon.  Of course that was just a guess and Steve is not impartial. Amazon doesn’t say how many customer accounts they have, but we know its a lot.   Amazon is clever in how they use the Music Locker to promote music purchases. Music you purchase from Amazon is stored for free in your locker, and when you buy an album your locker storage gets upgraded to 20GB for free.
  9. Amazon seems to care – Google has accidentally  built the largest music destination on the Internet, but try to use YouTube to as a place to go and find music and you are faced with the challenge of separating the good music from the many covers, remixes, parodies and just plain crap that seem to fill the channel.  iTunes has gone from a pretty good way to play music to becoming something that I only use to sync new content to my phone. It is bloated, slow and painful to use.  In the ten years that Apple has been king of the digital music hill they’ve done little to help improve the music listening experience. Apple has moved on to video and Apps. Music is just another feature.   Contrast that with what Amazon has done with the Kindle – they’ve made a device that arguably improves the reading experience. They chose eInk over color display, they keep the non-reading features to a minimum, they give a reader great discovery tools like the ability to sample the first few chapters of any book.  I’m hopeful that Amazon will apply their same since of care for books to the world of music.

Amazon’s music locker is not perfect by any means. There’s no iPhone app. The storage is too expensive, there are no discovery or automatic playlisting features in the player.  But what they’ve built is solid and usable.  I’m also not bullish on music lockers.  I’d rather pay $10 bucks a month to listen to any of 5 million tracks than to buy tracks at a dollar each.  But I’m glad to see Amazon position itself so aggressively in this space.  The competition between Google, Apple and Amazon will lead to a better music experience for us all.

  • Morgan Washburn

    apple is not far behind

    According to Storage Newsletter, Apple has purchased 12 petabytes (1 petabyte is 1024 terabytes, so over 12,000 terabytes) of storage from EMC’s Isilon Systems, reported for use with iTunes to store music, movies, TV, and other media content online.

  • UndefinedAJ

    I hope Apple does something different. Storing music online is not really a compelling reason to release a locker service.

  • prof_peabody

    All good points but … I think there are a ton of people out there like me who purposely never go to Amazon because it’s a confusing pile of dog cr*p that is hostile to the customer and impossible to use. I don’t even go to Amazon when I’m looking for a book.

    A better user experience will win the day over Amazon. They haven’t even bothered to make an iOS app for Amazon yet, that shows you how “in touch with the people” they aren’t and how well they *don’t* do “simple and easy to use.”

  • lkahney

    me too. i’d rather see apple do a comprehensive streaming service like spotify or rdio than continue with a la carte music.

    but as paul points out, apple should be worried about amazon. the biggest problem with android, for example, is integration with online media. if amazon were to get into the android business, it’s got that part solved.

  • BuckWheaties

    I strongly disagree. I’ve been using an amazon app on my iphone for years. Amazon is probably one of the easiest places to navigate and is always accurate with my searches. There is no iOS cloud app yet because there is no way Apple would even allow that in the app store before they got a chance to launch theirs.

  • nizy

    Apple tends not to be the first out of the gate with a new product or service. They like to be the guys who really take the time to understand how the product will be used and design it for that purpose such that its as easy to use as possible. In this case there are hundreds of small and big ways that Apple can p**s all over Amazon’s service from simple things like playlist and song stat syncing (using Mobileme push tech) to simple integration with iTunes (simplifying the upload process, seamless playback of cloud/local content).

    My biggest problem with a service like this is simply that the user has to upload their music collection, which is tedious for even fairly small music collections. Amazon does a little to help, by loading new purchases into the locker automatically, but why not take it further? Apple knows every song that you’ve bought on iTunes, so why not load all of them automatically into the locker, making it easier and more convenient for users?

  • Luigi

    The notion that people are going to stream music they already own to their mobile devices is laughable on its face. Why would you do that, which will quickly use up your monthly data ttransfer allotment and kill your battery, instead of simply storing the music on your iPhone or iPad where it belongs? The only people who have a music collection too big to fit on an iPhone or iPad have undoubtedly “stolen” most of it and they are not going to provide either Apple or Amazon with much business, anyway. Another solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

  • davester13

    “Amazon does APIs “

    NOT. For example, an app called Delicious Library uses Amazon to get information about movies, books and CDs from Amazon based on their bar-code/ISBN number/title [as well as from other sites]. They though it would be useful for people to be able to view their ‘library’ on their iPhone as well. Amazon said no, you can’t enable copying the data retrieved from Amazon to a mobile device AND you can’t enable the iPhone app to retrieve the data directly from Amazon.


    And of course they [Amazon] have nothing even remotely similar to it, making it doubly stupid.

  • swiley

    I disagree:
    I seriously don’t get the whole “cloud” thing.
    I mean really, what could be simpler then just syncing the songs to your ipod/iphone/ipad;
    it’s always there, no internet connection required (and no expensive bills no matter how long you play it) it plays instantly: no lagging, no waiting, no of-beat stuttering,no buggy javascript, you hit the play button and it plays music.

    All these people that call web browsers a “platform” can go jump of a cliff >:|

    I do agree that itunes is bloated, syncing things like apps and bookmarks to your idevice should be done in a separate application, but web browsers are /way/ more bloated then itunes, and much more are the “programs” that people write for them

  • Mike Rathjen

    Fail #1: “There’s no iPhone app”
    Fail #2: “The storage is too expensive”


    I’ve always enjoyed Amazon’s service, prices and no sales tax but the latter will end soon. As far as Apple being worried I think that’s a little premature. Video wise, an Apple TV and streaming netflix for 8 dollars a month can’t be beat. You say you would rather pay $10 a month to access 5 million songs is actually kind of stupid. How many of those 5 million songs are you going to listen to a month or are worth listening to. I do think amazon’s claim that once you own a track you can store it anywhere you want and listen to it on any device you want to is legal but I’m not going to pay for that storage especially when I can buy a 1Tbyte hard drive for 60 bucks and access it anytime with any of my Apple devices. Ever heard of IDisk? Apple will soon turn the tv networks, cable and satelite co.’s and their business model on their heads and they’re scared to death. Google while they’re the internet ad giant I’m uncomfortable with all the info they want to accumulate on me and every other person in the world. In a word they are scary and when you throw in the fact that they could care less about viruses, malware and spyware on their platform you’d have to be an idiot to let them anywhere near your personal info. I’ll stick with the company that has morals and gives me an experience free from viruses, malware and spyware and that company is Apple. Really, they actually get it and care about your experience not how much money they can suck out of you. And yes I know some Apple computers are a little higher priced but when you consider the total cost and experience they are actually less expensive. By the way Ipods are cheap and IPhones are the same price as any other smartphone and the IPad is less expensive than any comparable tablet with a much better experience. No Apple doesn’t have anything to worry about but Google’s issues run much deeper.

  • 300AShareMakesMeSmile

    Pffft. Amazon’s cloud storage is merely OK. Apple can easily beat Amazon’s customer base by leveraging the iTMS client base of 200 million credit card accounts. Apple can build devices specially tailored for downloading and streaming. If Apple actually does purchase Netflix, it’s all over for Amazon. Amazon is really getting a bit too greedy and stepping way out of line from its online retail business. Apple cloud storage will have consolidated support for every iOS device and OSX devices which owners will be able to share as long as they have an iTunes account. Not every Android owner has an Amazon account, but every iOS and OSX user is basically forced to have an iTunes account. If Apple does purchase Netflix it will have Apple and Netflix’s customer database and more content than Amazon will ever be able to put together. If you think that Amazon could match the amount of storage that Apple could throw together, then you’re sadly deluding yourself.

    I greatly enjoy using Amazon for purchases and have been using it for many years with satisfaction. No problems whatsoever. I’ve recently tried the free cloud storage and it’s OK. Fine audio streaming. It just that you need to put into perspective that Android cloud storage potential users will likely be divided between Google’s own cloud storage and Amazon’s. I don’t know what type of storage servers that Amazon is using but the Isilon servers are top-rated systems with very high scaling capabilities and Apple is going to need all the scalability it can get.

    We’ll also see how much those cheapskate Android users are willing to spend for cloud storage and it will be very interesting to see how costly it will be for Amazon to have all that cloud storage service overhead. I’m glad Amazon investors are whooping it up now as their precious shares head for the sky, but we’ll see what happens when Amazon gets some serious competition. Free cloud storage on every iOS device purchased will offer a lot of incentive to buy Apple products.

  • Patranus

    Your assumption is that when Amazon says F-U to the labels the labels won’t f Amazon back and pull their content.

    You see, Amazon makes money by selling music while they don’t make money with this storage locker.

    So, the labels really do have the upper hand and Amazon could be SOL very shortly.

  • iHate_Is_Back

    Why would you do that, which will quickly use up your monthly data ttransfer allotment and kill your battery, instead of simply storing the music on your iPhone or iPad where it belongs?
    nobody is saying its perfect but it’s a start. Give it time the cloud will be the standard within a decade and with it will come better wireless networks and cheaper plans with more data for wireless customers. I still remember back in the day when the average user was on dial up and downloading or uploading anything was a huge pain. Years later look at where we are now when it comes to home service.

    The only people who have a music collection too big to fit on an iPhone or iPad have undoubtedly “stolen” most of it and they are not going to provide either Apple or Amazon with much business, anyway
    That’s a very short sighted comment to make. I started collecting music at the tender age of 10 and have since been collecting music for 30 years. At last count I had over 300 albums and over 550 CD’s not counting my downloads from various online stores such as iTunes, Amazon, HDTracks etc. Last time I checked I had almost 2.5 terabytes in lossless files and over 120 gigabytes in low bit rate mp3’s. I won’t lie to you and say I’ve never downloaded music from P2P, as far as I’m concerned whether they want to admit it or not everybody has at one time or another. If I like the music I always buy the CD and if not I don’t invest in the CD. Either way the files get deleted. Since online stores such as iTunes started providing 30 to 1 min clips of files I barely even use P2P anymore. Most people who love music and enjoy an artists work are honest enough to ultimately buy the CD instead of stealing it. The teeniee boppers and cheapos on the other hand are a different story but they’re a minority. Whether you like the idea or not doesn’t matter within the next decade cloud storage will become the standard and even OS such as iOS, Android, Windows, OSX, Linux etc will begin to become heavily cloud based. I suggest you give up gripping to the past and accept the future.

  • iHate_Is_Back

    I’m glad Amazon investors are whooping it up now as their precious shares head for the sky, but we’ll see what happens when Amazon gets some serious competition. Free cloud storage on every iOS device purchased will offer a lot of incentive to buy Apple products.
    Lol Apple does nothing for free.

  • Anonymous

    Amazon managed to “keep a secret” before the release of its cloud player because no one cares about Amazon’s music services. There’s so much word about Google and Apple because they’re the companies that matter when it comes to cloud based services. Even after Amazon’s release, few people are talking about it. Would you care if say… Barnes & Noble released a music locker?

  • Reeltime

    Here’s what you missed… I think ALL signs in Amazon’s business strategy point to one very logical next step.

    Amazon is readying a tablet that will shock the world.

    I mean it. I think they are a few months away from unleashing a $200 color tablet that will crush the Nook Color and mount a serious challenge to the iPad 2.

    I think they will omit a camera, but deliver a high quality color screen, with a rocking processor that will compete with the A5.

    Look at the Amazon environment for a moment.

    – Clearly they realize the Nook Color is causing them trouble and they must answer with a comparable color Kindle.

    – They’ve launched a cloud player for music. Having hardware that supports the new cloud would be a logical step.

    – They just launched an app store that has Apple bothered. Wouldn’t a tablet to go along with that app store be the next logical move.

    – Nothing would please them more than to rile Apple. The Kindle continues to be the e-reader of choice. Why stop there?

    – What better way to increase revenue than to move a large number of quality Android tablets?

    This one’s a no brainer. Amazon is readying a killer piece of hardware. I can’t wait to see what they dream up.

  • davester13

    Good luck with that. The parts to make a product that is comparable [in screen size, processor, graphics and storage] won’t be able to be cheaper than the iPad unless Amazon makes it a loss-leader [because Apple has sewn up the market for the components, which is why the Xoom costs more than the iPad, let alone the iPad 2]. And to support it being a loss-leader, it would have to be hard-wired to the Amazon store for apps and books. And to do that, they would have to exclude the Google store, and Google would probably say, no google store, no google apps.

    So to really make a slightly cheaper tablet, that means:
    1) touch screen is a large part of the cost. Cheaper screen = significantly smaller and/or poorer quality
    2) processor/graphics. Amazon doesn’t exactly have hardware design experience, so it’s off the shelf ARM/graphics chips for similar speed [but crappier graphics] for about the same cost as Apple
    3) storage. They could save a little by skimping on it, but not a large cost savings here.

  • CharliK

    I”m going to laugh if that FU at the labels causes Amazon to get sued. The labels will likely try to have it labeled a violation of their contracts and cause to void the whole thing and Amazon will have to remove everything by said label. Or if they can’t yank it early when the contracts are up, bye bye it goes

  • CharliK

    Frankly I doubt that Apple is bothered by anything anyone is doing. Particularly Amazon. IF Apple releases a cloud service everyone (or at least a serious majority) will jump on it cause ‘hey it’s Apple it has to be the best’. The ipad is THE tablet and no one, not even Amazon is coming close and that Android marketplace is no where near a threat to the iOS App Store at this point.

  • CharliK

    When you have a large library that you can access online you don’t have to spend as much on local storage. For many it is a viable game plan because they have wifi where they are. For example when Lala.com was around I keep a small bit of music for my commute but then went online at the office to get my full set.

  • Reeltime

    You make a good point– and perhaps I’ve missed the price point. It could come in at $350 and still have an impact.

    The Nook Color already has a touch screen that’s quite wonderful at $250, so I don’t agree that it can’t be done.

    The Xoom has a lot of technical advantages to the iPad, but at their obscene price point– you’re going to get an iPad because of the apps.

    I don’t buy the notion that Apple isn’t bothered by Amazon. They’ve already logged a complaint over the Amazon app store name. If it was no big deal, they’d have let that sail by.

    Mind you– I’m writing this on an Apple happy web site. Translation: I like Apple products. I use them every day, from MacBook Pros to iPods to iPhones. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get interested in what others are doing. The Xoom is a very nice device, but way way way (by like HALF) too expensive. The Kindle is still the best electronic way to read a book.

    The iPad will continue to lead the tablet market for years. I believe this is primarily due to apps. Look– the hardware is close enough at this point to be a wash among the tablets. It’s the app store that puts the iPad in a league of its own.

    Here’s what’s interesting. Granted- Android apps still are playing catch up. But what drives Apple’s app developers is not-so-much that there are 15 million iPads out there– sold in the first year (though that is impressive)– but more, that Apple has the credit cards on file for 200,000,000 customers worldwide. Yeah. If I’m a developer- I’m going to the iPad first, then Android.

    But who else has that kind of leverage? Amazon.

    Putting a pad in their customer’s hands– combined with the credit cards they have on file– Amazon is laying the ground work for being a real player in the tablet market.

    I’m not lining up for one.. but I love to see a good show.

  • OPAS

    Steve, just wanted to chime in about your prediction that Amazon’s tax-free shopping will end soon. Even if states decide to crack down on this, you can still shop tax-free on Amazon (or any other store) if you use a forwarding service from a state without sales tax (like Oregon). Check out http://bit.ly/i2Tatw

  • Barbara

    I assume by your reply that you would use a cloud to store your music instead of using a personal hard drive. While I agree, it would be cheaper, I don’t think that Amazon or whomever cares about my stuff nearly as much as I do. I make certain that my music, etc. is stored in multiple places that I can physically access. Cloud storage isn’t backed up in the same way. Look at the guy who had all of his photos on Flickr deleted because an employee mistook his account for another one that had been reported for inappropriate content and flagged for deletion. He had thousands of pictures and there was no way to recover them after they were gone. This says that his content was NOT backed up in a reliable way. Cloud storage is a great way to access data remotely, but, right now, that’s all.

  • Rroberts

    What you missed here is that Amazon does NOT get the user experience. Amazon.com is a painful eyesore. There is only ONE company that truly understands the UI and user experience. That’s Apple. If they decide to play in this market, they will crush Amazon’s offering for all but a few geeks who are too cool for great design.

  • Ictus75

    The cloud is all well and wonderful, but what will happen with cell companies & internet providers now putting limits on how much data you can transfer with your monthly plan? If you stream music & movies all the time, you’re going to be SOL when it comes time to pay your cell/internet bill.

  • CharliK

    The discussion was about portable devices like iphones and ipad and ‘just syncing’ your stuff to them. So bad assumption. Next time why don’t you try reading what folks are replying to for full comprehension

    So is your assumption that I’m some clueless moron that isn’t aware of all the Sidekick, Flickr etc crap. Yes I”m well aware of them. As well as the other various limits and risks of cloud storage and access.

  • CharliK

    1. It’s called Wifi. No allotment to worry about

    2. Actually no, not everyone with more than 32 GB of music has stolen it. I have 4 times that amount of music and every bit of it was legally bought from Amazon or itunes or rips from a massive CD collection I inherited when my music obsessed father passed away thank you every much.

    3. Because I have about 150 GB of music I would love to be able to access even part of that via streaming. That was why I used lala.com. I would welcome Apple setting up a means to stream even just the 50 or so GB I have bought from them.

  • CharliK

    Why can’t Apple do it all. In some form or fashion

    Imagine an itunes store where you could
    1. Buy a song or album and download it to your home computer
    2. Stream your previous purchases via wifi
    3. Buy the rights to just stream a song (like lala.com did) for a lesser amount. Sort of like Zune but there’s no monthly fee to keep access.
    4. improve their ping and genius features with the old Lala.com ‘mix it up’ etc stuff
    5. Remove the Media store from itunes and put it on the web, thus reducing bloat within itunes. Should be hella easy since the pages are basically a website viewed within the app anyway.
    6. And yes even, perhaps for a small monthly fee, like you stream music of their choice in an ad free radio like system where you can tag certain songs or artists that you really like, even genres and the system tries to pick the stuff you are more likely to want to hear. With of course links to buying it either style #1 or 3.

  • CharliK

    “I don’t buy the notion that Apple isn’t bothered by Amazon. They’ve already logged a complaint over the Amazon app store name. If it was no big deal, they’d have let that sail by.”

    They can’t just ‘let that sail by’ because the trademark laws won’t let them. Apple has been granted the mark they requested but now they have to protect that mark via complaints, lawsuits etc

    But protecting a trademark is a far cry from being worried about this or that action by another company. I highly doubt that anyone at Apple is cowering in the corner about to piss their pants because Amazon, Google or anyone else did anything first. Or even second, third etc. Because when Apple does it, they will spin it that they are doing it the best way for their audience (iOS and Mac OS users) and it will be awesome, amazing, magical.

    And lets not forget all the credit cards that Apple has, plus an OS so seemingly fantastic that developers (including yourself if you ever decided to do it) go to the ipad et al first. Which is why they have the lead in the apps. Something Android may have trouble catching up on because of the various OS issues of letting everyone muck around with the software. Google is just now figuring out that they gave folks too much control but with the beast loose it will be near to impossible to regain their footing without a huge PR mess (which might scare them away from trying)

  • CharliK

    1. yes they are ignoring a huge audience which is not smooth
    2. At this point they are basically giving tons of storage away. That of course won’t last but it is a way to promote this and get folks in. Amazon is likely figuring that if they get folks invested in their version those folks won’t care when someone else releases whatever. Common game style. We’ll see if it works

  • Ravi

    I’d love to see the labels pull their content from Amazon. They will, of course, sell their digital music businesses to Apple for pennies on the dollar the very next day.

    Amazon is the one company in the world that can get away with this. The labels need Amazon far more than Amazon needs them. Amazon is the #2 seller of digital music in a market where the #1 seller (Apple) is already very, very powerful. Should the labels foolishly eliminate the major well-known, trusted alternative to Apple, Apple would quickly take advantage of their newfound power.

  • Ravi

    You do realize that *Amazon* isn’t the reason there’s no iPhone app, right? What would you have Amazon do? Not do Cloud Player at all because they wouldn’t get permission from Apple?

  • Ravi

    Apple wouldn’t allow Amazon’s Cloud Player after they’d launched their service, either. Remember, one important class of App Store rejection is “duplication of built-in functionality”.

  • HammyHavoc

    I would say that SoundCloud and Spotify are more of a ‘threat’, but iTunes is and will always be at the top. That is just the way it is. Apple will continue innovating and leading everybody else.

  • HammyHavoc

    Agreed. I can see Amazon’s offering being similar to webOS. Very disappointing from the point of view of actual software. No corporation has any form of ‘game’ against Apple now.

  • HammyHavoc

    I took a quick look at Amazon’s cloud player and had no inclination to use it. Just don’t see any point in it. Amazon doesn’t even offer anything to make me want to try it out.

  • HammyHavoc

    I want cloud sync; I want to be able to choose any songs from my library at home. I don’t want to have to sync with a USB cable or even be at home. That’s the place that I see a nice use for ‘the cloud’.

    Bring on the new MobileMe update I say, that’ll really make it even more value for the tiny price I pay per year for a family account.