Apple made a slew of announcements today at their Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. Perhaps most expected was the release of iCloud, their cloud computing service. It allows syncing of just about everything you may store on your multiple devices: apps, email, calendars, contacts, documents, books, photos, and music. It does this with little effort from the user, following Apple’s “it just works” motto. The ability to sync all of these things across devices is huge for Apple, but music in particular sticks out above the rest. Apple helped change the music industry when it introduced iTunes in 2001, and many expected iCloud to do something similar. With Google’s recently released Music Beta and Amazon’s Cloud Drive, the world has been waiting to see what Apple has up their sleeve.
Amazon Cloud Drive was first to market when it was released last March. For a price, Amazon allows users to upload their music libraries so they can be streamed down to any device with a web browser. Google offers the same type of service with a few differences. First off, it’s free while it’s still in beta. Google plans to charge for its use at some point, but for the time being it’s free to anyone who receives an invite. The second big difference is how they measure your use. Amazon determines how much you will pay based on how many gigabytes your music takes up, giving you the first 5GB free. Google, on the other hand, currently measure’s by the number of songs. In Music Beta, you’re allowed to store up to 20,000 songs on their servers. While Google may change this once it’s out of beta, 20,000 songs should be plenty for the majority of people. The third difference (and possibly biggest draw) to Amazon’s Cloud Drive is the inclusion of Amazon’s MP3 store. Any song you buy from Amazon will go directly into your Cloud Drive and be ready to stream in seconds. No waiting for it to download and re-uploading back to the cloud.
Unlike Google and Amazon, Apple has chosen a completely different path in regard to music in the cloud. iCloud won’t offer any type of streaming with their service. Instead, iCloud will be used to keep music synced between all of a user’s devices. When someone downloads a song from iTunes, the song will be downloaded to the device they are on, as well as every other device under that person’s name. This is a great way of relieving the user from having to sync music between devices, but still restricts the library’s size to what will fit on those devices. Google and Amazon rid the size restriction by hosting all of the music on their own servers and streaming it back to the user.
In a somewhat surprising move, Apple is not going to restrict the use of iCloud to music only bought from iTunes. With iTunes Match, iTunes will find all of your uploaded non-iTunes music and add it to your music list in iCloud. It will then sync it between devices as if it was bought from iTunes. Unfortunately, iTunes Match does have a price. It will cost users $25 a year for an unlimited number of songs, much more than both Google and Amazon, assuming you don’t have an enormous library that Amazon will charge you for.
While iCloud has a lot of potential and will offer some amazing services, it’s still not clear who will win the cloud music battle. Many thought it would be Apple due to their rumored record label deals, but without music streaming it may not be the best option. Amazon offers compelling features with a great store for buying music, but the cost of storing a large music library could easily add up. Just today I received an invite to Google’s Music Beta, and so far it’s performed flawlessly. With Google’s already successful cloud computing services like Google Docs and Gmail, I’m excited to see how Music Beta will be improved and enhanced. Not to mention the ever enticing price of free, I think Google Music Beta is going to be the winner of this war. Apple’s lack of streaming simply makes it a fancy way to sync. While useful, it’s not what people were looking for or expecting from Apple today. But what I think doesn’t really matter, let us know which ones you’ve tried and liked in the comments below.