A few weeks ago I took the opportunity to suggest what I’d like to see from a then-rumored iCloud service. My desires haven’t changed more than a smidgen since that time—I'd like syncing that’s intuitive enough for non-geeks, useful collaboration (an iWork.com that actually works and Apple seems to have an obvious interest in), a Web presence, and cloud-based media storage and streaming. Now I’d like to focus a bit more on what Apple might do with cloud-based media, particularly given that Google has since entered the online media fray with its Music Beta service.
It’s all in the locker
Before I fully dip my oar in, let’s bring some clarity to these murky waters by detailing the current state of cloud-based media storage. Today’s two big players, Amazon and Google, provide free services for uploading the music you own to their servers and then streaming it to your computer or portable device. (Amazon’s Cloud Player can stream to computers and both iOS and Android devices, whereas Google’s Music Beta doesn’t currently support the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.) These are passive-locker schemes, meaning a copy of the music you want to stream must be placed in the locker. So, when you purchase a track from Amazon’s MP3 Store, an additional copy is placed in your Cloud Player storage space.
Passive locker systems such as these exist in order to skirt restrictions from the music companies. These companies object to a single copy of a track being offered to multiple users. Rather, they insist that tracks be tied to a specific user. This is accomplished when you upload a copy of a track to one of these lockers or, when purchasing an MP3 track from Amazon, a copy of that track is placed in your Cloud Player. These lockers do not have the blessing of the music companies and it’s likely that a deal will either be struck or Amazon, Google, and music companies will spend some quality time in court.
From a consumer’s perspective there are obvious disadvantages that come with a passive locker. The most obvious is that you have to go to the trouble of uploading your music. Given that Google’s Music Beta allows you to upload up to 20,000 tracks, this can take a very long time for a large music collection. And then there are bandwidth caps. Place the blame where you like, but increasingly companies such as AT&T, Comcast, and Time-Warner are doing their darndest to kill unlimited data plans by imposing bandwidth caps. Free though Amazon Cloud Player and Google Music Beta may be, they get a whole lot less free when you’re charged for “excessive” data usage when uploading and streaming music.
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