September 22, 2023

State of the Art: The Cloud That Rains Music

Amazon, whose online music store competes with Apple’s, has two problems with that arrangement. First, your music library is messily scattered. When you buy a new song at home, you can’t listen to it at work, at least not without copying it manually. You might buy a song on your phone, but it won’t be on your computer until you do a sync. And if your music library is big, you can fit only a portion of it onto your phone.

Second, Amazon wishes more people would buy music from its store instead of iTunes.

This week, the online retailer took the wraps off a slick suite of software and services that solves both problems, and offers some sweet incentives for you to consider it.

Amazon’s big idea is that instead of sitting on your computer, your music collection will sit online ( or “in the cloud,” as hipsters insist on saying). That way, you can listen to it from any computer — at home, at work, at a friend’s — by logging into a special Web page called the Amazon Cloud Player.

You can also listen to anything in your music collection on an Android phone. No copying or syncing of music is ever required; all your songs are always available everywhere, and they don’t hog any storage on the phone itself.

The Cloud Player is a simple, clean, polished music-playback page that looks vaguely like iTunes. It’s dominated by a list of your songs, which you can sort and search. The album art shows up. You can drag songs into playlists. You can play back a song, album or playlist, complete with Shuffle and Repeat functions. You can download songs to your computer (they go directly into iTunes or Windows Media Player). Sound quality is excellent (the streaming is the full 256 kilobits a second of the original files, if you’re into that sort of statistic).

There’s a free Uploader app that lets you send your existing music files from your Mac or PC to that same online library, so those songs, too, are available from anywhere. The app is clever enough to preserve your songs and playlists the way you organized them in iTunes or Windows Media Player. (Just note that it recognizes only MP3 and AAC files — not ring tones, audio books or WAV files. Copy-protected songs need not apply.)

The app for Android phones is similar. It offers two big buttons: one for listening to your online music collection, and another for playing the music files that are actually on the phone. There’s no way to mix and match — to create a playlist containing some songs from each source, for example.

Amazingly enough, all of this is absolutely free.

Well, sort of.

Songs are pretty big files. That, after all, is one huge advantage of Amazon’s cloud idea: moving those hefty music files to the Internet frees up space on your computers and phones.

To get you started, Amazon offers everyone five gigabytes of free space online — enough room for about 1,200 MP3 songs. You can buy more storage; it costs $1 a gigabyte a year. If you have a 50-gigabyte song collection, for example, you’ll pay $50 a year. That can get awfully steep at the high end (like $1,000 for 1,000 gigabytes) — high enough to make “pay $15 a month for unlimited music” sites like Rhapsody look awfully appealing.

The storage is good for more than music files, though. Part II of the Amazon announcement is the Cloud Drive, an online hard drive a lot like the Apple iDisk or Microsoft SkyDrive.

On this virtual drive, you can store anything at all: photos, Office documents — anything you might like to back up or to retrieve later from any other computer. Even if you never use any of Amazon’s music features, having this five-gigabyte drive online is a pleasant surprise, free to anyone who wants it. (You can view the photos and play the music you’ve stored there, but otherwise, it’s just a place for parking files, not opening them.)

Amazon takes the sting out of its storage prices with some special offers. For example, if you buy an album from Amazon’s music store, your Cloud Drive gets bumped up to 20 gigabytes for the year — no charge.


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