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Did Amazon check-mate Google and Apple in the quest to Digital content storage in cloud?

Posted in Internet and Search, The cloud and the open source by Manas Ganguly on March 30, 2011

I had written about Apple’s music subscription services from the cloud and Google Cloud Streaming Music services. With the launch of its Digital music locker service, Amazon has beaten beat Apple and Google in the race to the cloud. Amazon has also launched its own cloud drive which would be a personal data disk in the cloud. While Google has started testing its Music streaming internally, Apple is working ona complete overhaul of its MobileMe services and will not look at a launch till Q3, 2011!

The Digital Music locker, lets users store their music (AAC/MP3 formats in their original bit-rates) on the Web and then listen to their collections on computers (PC/Mac) with a Web browser or on Android devices. Consumers can store their digital songs, videos, photos, documents, and music. In addition, Amazon also rolled out the Cloud Player, which enables people to play the songs they uploaded to Cloud Drive.

The ability to access music across a range of devices from the cloud directly eliminates the need of music transfer from computer to music players and cell-phones etc. Amazon’s music locker can be accessed from all the major browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari.The Cloud Drive also allows customers to upload photos, videos, and documents, but those digital files are accessible only via a Web browser on a computer.

However. Amazon is yet to license the rights from top Hollywood studios and music companies which would otherwise mount to violation of legal copyrights, licensing agreements and IPR for Amazon. Apple, Google, and Spotify appear to have put themselves at a disadvantage by waiting to roll out their cloud offerings until they obtained licenses.

What this means for the cloud and competition?

There’s nothing all that world-changing about Amazon’s announcements. Plenty of companies are already offering online storage for free, and music streaming services are also on offer by many. However its the mash-up of music streaming, cloud storage, cloud storage of e-books and movies which is suddenly making Amazon such a potent threat to Apple and Google. Movies you buy from its video-on-demand service, for instance, already stay on Amazon’s servers, so they’re safe and sound even if your hard disk crashes. And Kindle e-books automatically get shelved in an online archive, so you can download them to a Kindle e-reader, smart phone or computer — or all of the above.

Users today have multiple computers, smart phones, tablets and even Internet-connected TVs.They had want personal digital media content to be accessible on all of them. Keeping it on the Internet makes that possible.Amazon is thus quickly moving to be the one stop shop for all “digital belongings” which were earlier a part of the local computer hard drive and will in future be available across devices and platforms.

Apple’s social layer: Come alive in iOS5?

Ping was Apple’s first effort at get a Facebook like network of users going for itself and it depended on its Music streaming services from the cloud, which was led by its acquisition of Lala. However Ping hasn’t really taken off inspite of the success of the iPad, iPhone and now the Apple TV. So, this time around Apple reloads its effort at Social Networking and in full measure. By full measure, I only mean that Apple is not just depending on Music streaming services from the cloud, it is putting a social layer in iOS 5.0. Expect a few vestiges of this service to surface in iOS 4.3 which should be round the corner. Essentially the dots that Apple would be joining to showcase this layer is as follows:

1. “Find my Friends” service which should be an integration of the phonebook and maps. Apple also has a patent on something called the iGroups, which should in a lot of measures be close to Facebook
2. The iOS 4.3 Beta release showcases the Media Stream service which in its present version is limited to Photo Streams only! Knowing Apple iOS 5.0 would integrate Video Streaming/ Sharing and Music Sharing/Streaming. Out here, Apple has Lala’s expertise for the Music bit.
3. Thirdly, it is expected that all or a significant bit of Apple’s social services will be cloud based. Thus the experience is customized for the user. Apple calls this the MobileMe- a users personalized experiences hosted and streamed from the crowd across all Apple devices.

Putting all these services in a single Interface is where Apple’s legendary prowess with interfaces could really make the experience out of this world. Apple has a reference from the Kin Studio which does all the above listed and More. Microsoft may have dropped Kin, but Apple could take a leaf from Kin’s book to deliver outstanding social networking experience across devices and services. Lets hope to see the Apple magic soon.

Apple sets sight on music streaming from the cloud

Even while at being on the top of its business, Apple explores an overhaul of the way it sells and stores music.

Apple Inc., the company that restructured the music industry around its iTunes service, is exploring an overhaul of the way it sells and stores music that is aimed at extending its influence to the Web.

The key vehicle for the move is Apple’s newly acquired music-streaming service La La Media Inc. for which Apple paid $85 million. As part of the move, Lala executives have been given key positions helping shape music strategy for the iTunes Store.

Where Apple’s iTunes requires users to download music onto a specific computer, Lala.com lets users buy and listen to music through a Web browser, meaning its customers can access purchases from anywhere, as long as they are connected to the Internet. Apple is considering adopting that same model for songs sold on iTunes, a change that would give consumers more ways to access and manage their iTunes purchases—and wouldn’t require them to download Apple’s software or their purchases. This new business model extends Apple’s grip on the music business, giving it the ability to sell music through search engines and other Web sites and broaden its reach beyond people who come to its virtual store. For consumers, such changes could make it far easier to manage and access large libraries of music, which need to be stored, maintained and backed up on computer hard drives and portable devices.

Record company executives said that they are optimistic about the prospect of consumers being able to buy music from more Web sites, but cautious about any development that would add to Apple’s already significant power. Apple, surpassed Wal-Mart Stores Inc. last year as the biggest music seller, and will generate about $2 billion in iTunes revenue this year, estimates Piper Jaffray & Co. That’s about 20% higher than last year, the brokerage firm estimates, but growth has slowed over the past several years as most people now own iPods or iPhones and it is adding fewer new users.ITunes is also facing pressure from competing services that allow users to listen to “streaming” music either cheaply or free on computers or portable, Internet-connected devices like the iPhone or iPod touch. Streaming has been at the heart of Lala’s strategy for the past two years, in the form of what the site calls “Web songs,” which cost 10 cents and are accessed via a Web browser.

The proposed changes would represent a fundamental redefinition of what it means to own a song, movie or other piece of media—shifting the emphasis from possession of a physical disc or digital file to the right to access content.Certain legal issues remain hazy: If music becomes a virtual product, it isn’t clear how Apple might be able to guarantee a buyer would retain access to a song in perpetuity if, for instance, a new owner gained control of a record label’s catalog and changed the terms of its deal with the retailer.

Lala has partnerships that allow it to sell songs from links embedded on sites as major as Google Inc. and as specialized as the indie-music site Pitchfork Media. Adopting that strategy would represent a major departure for Apple, which has always relied on what is known as a walled-garden approach in which its machines run on proprietary software. But that closed-system approach has limited its sales reach to people who deliberately log in to its online store.

Apple has revisited its iTunes strategy from time to time and had discussed the impact of streaming music services like Lala and Pandora Inc. in the past, but it believed that people want to own their music on hardware. This is the first time, Apple has set its sights on streaming music from the cloud.

The shift could reopen an uncomfortable topic between Apple and the music industry. Record-label executives were relieved in 2003 when Apple launched what was then called the iTunes Music Store, which appeared to be a virtual lifeline in a growing sea of illegally downloaded songs. But they have since also become frustrated that the service’s dominance of the market has made it into a gatekeeper with what they view as undue sway. In addition to selling music, Lala’s software also scans a user’s existing music library and matches its contents with songs on its own servers, then gives the user access to that music via a Web browser. That approach, known in technology circles as cloud computing, could also be part of a revamped, Web-based iTunes, according to the people with knowledge of the talks.It is also possible that Apple would use Lala’s streaming technology as the basis for a subscription service, for which users would pay a flat rate in exchange for unlimited access to music. Such offerings already exist but have never gained much traction with users, mainly because most don’t work with iPods or iPhones.

Heres a YouTube video of the Lala music streaming on the iPhone

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