Amazon just dropped a bomb on the technology world in the form of a cross-platform cloud music player. This is at once a game-changing move in the Internet storage and backup world dominated by players like EMC, in the Internet Music world dominated by Apple and in the mobile space where Amazon is concentrating on the Android platform. Let me explain what Amazon is doing and how I think it is likely to affect thee markets.
Just this morning as the US hit midnight on the East Coast, Amazon rolled out its music streaming service. If you go to Amazon’s home page, the usual prominent display for Kindle is now replaced by an announcement of the service.
Amazon’s messaging is clearly geared toward Apple and iTunes as they write about freeing people from having their music ‘stuck’ on one device. And the majority of online music purchases today are made via iTunes. Amazon is the next biggest competitor.
But almost immediately, Amazon add that their solution to this problem, having a copy on the Amazon Cloud Drive, acts as a backup in case you lose data on your hard drive. In fact, Amazon allows users to store anything on these Cloud Drives – photos, videos, PDFs, or any electronic document. This is a direct competitive threat to EMC, which owns Mozy, a leading online backup solution. Mozy recently dropped its unlimited cloud backup solution, making it vulnerable to this move.
The Cloud Player is geared toward music now, but I imagine photo and video capability are coming later. And this makes sense given Amazon’s recent move to beef up its streaming video service with Amazon Prime Instant, an all you can eat service available to users of Amazon’s priority and free shipping service, Amazon Prime. I could see this service being augmented to play back photo albums from the Amazon Cloud Drive and allowing streaming to phones as well.
I am an Amazon prime customer and get two-day free delivery (usually one-day in practice) for items I order from Amazon for an annual subscription fee of $79 (oriinally $50). Now, I can use my Roku Player (ordered through Amazon) to watch a select list of videos for free in addition to the paid Amazon Instant Video service.
Amazon are releasing an Android version of the cloud player in addition to a Mac and PC version. For now, one can only upload music to the cloud via Mac or PC via an Abode Air-based cross-platform software program. As I write this I am installing the software on a PC and the install is working very smoothly. It is now searching for music on my PC to upload to the cloud.
Tellingly, Apple’s iOS platform, which runs iPhones and iPads, does not have an Amazon Cloud Player product. TechCrunch says this is because Apple has blocked Amazon from using that platform, first by blocking the mobile version of Safari from playing back music on the Amazon Cloud Player and then through their AppStore subscription policy. Tech Crunch writes:
On Android devices, Cloud Player works by way of the Amazon MP3 app. This app does not exist on the iOS platform because it would compete with Apple’s iTunes Store. Presumably, Amazon could make another stand-alone app for Cloud Player or include it in one of their other Amazon iOS apps, but Apple new platform rules on subscriptions make this a bit murky (Amazon’s Cloud Drive is free for 5 GB but costs a yearly fee for more storage).
Of course, even if Amazon wanted to bring Cloud Player to iOS devices, Apple may not want it there. The company is gearing up to launch their own music locker system, though perhaps not until the fall. Google is also working on a similar service.
Update: As Gian points out in the comments below, there is a way to play songs on an iOS device from Amazon’s service: you hit the option to download them. This essentially downloads the MP3 file from Amazon’s server and uses Safari’s built-in player to play it. Not exactly ideal, but it does work — with AirPlay too!
The threat to Apple is twofold.
First, Amazon is a direct competitor to Apple in the online music space. iTunes is the dominant platform in this space and it utilizes the iPod/iPhone/iPad tether to iTunes to tie in the online music store and the music player into a seamless unit. Apple works hard to make it difficult to use an iOS device with another music player or to use iTunes with a non-iOS device. The software integration is built into operating systems of the iOS hardware and iTunes is repeatedly updated to eliminate free riders from linking non-iOS devices with iTunes.
Amazon is trying to break this tie by using the cloud. You can download a song on your mobile device or computer and upload them to Amazon’s service and play them through that service on any device, anywhere you might be. That’s very cool, very open. Apple has shut this openness down by blocking Amazon on iOS devices. And now we will have to see if Amazon can do an end run on this.
Apple’s move actually gives the Android platform a boost. This could turn into an Android killer app that makes people switch from regular phones to low-cost Android devices. The key is adoption on Macs and PCs – and Amazon’s pushing the storage/backup angle is a good ploy to increase adoption of their platform. If Amazon gets enough people to adopt them on Macs and PCs, it will force those users over to Android. Notice that Windows Mobile is nowhere in this picture yet. That tells you something.
The Threat to Google is less.
Google gets the Android platform boost, so that works in its favour. However, like Apple, Google is known to be coming out with its own cloud music service. In fact, I have already sampled a leaked version of this music player on my Android phone. I anticipate it will be coming soon. So, clearly Google wants to get into the music space too. But they do not have an existing music platform to protect, so Amazon’s threat to them is more in terms of forestalling Google’s diversifying revenue away from advertising.
Nevertheless, Amazon have recently released their own Android AppStore where one can buy Apps for the Android platform. Amazon have been clever in offering to give away one paid App for free every day in order to boost adoption of its store. I have been using it and can say that, like the music player it is a nice piece of software. This puts Amazon in competition with Google again. So Google are going to see Amazon as a competitor on their own Android platform more than an ally against Apple and their platform.
The threat to storage companies is clear.
Finally, there is EMC and its Mozy backup service. I use Mozy and I have the unlimited storage, the vast majority of which is made up of videos, photos and music. I am not unique here because storage providers have been forced into increasing drive space to keep up with the massive media storage that consumers crave now that their media has been digitized. backing this stuff up is a problem because these files are much larger than normal documents like Word Documents or spreadsheets. They eat storage space like crazy and that costs money for backup companies like EMC. That’s exactly why EMC have moved away from this unmetered model. It’s just too expensive for them.
In the music space, I never made the switch from the 160GB iPod Classic to the better and newer iPod Touch because I need the space and a top of the line iPod Touch only has 64GB of storage. This is where cloud music players come in. People will definitely switch from using services like Mozy to using services like Amazon’s cloud drive if Amazon can offer them a compelling any device, anywhere media experience that also has adequate backup capabilities. The Future is Streaming Content to Any Device, Anywhere and at Any Time. Because Amazon is already in the storage space, I assume they will be a much bigger threat to the likes of EMC than Apple would be. Google is well-positioned here as well given their prowess in storage.
As a consumer, I am pretty excited about all of this competition and choice. I look forward to seeing Apple and Google come out with their own competing products. And now that Amazon has drawn first blood, I fully expect those products to be live very soon.