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Amazon Cloud Drive: A solution in search of a problem?

March 29, 2011 |  6:58 pm

Amazon Cloud Drive Let's get something straight right up front: Online music lockers are inherently lame.

This point was established years ago, when a bunch of companies (MyPlay, MP3.com, Musicbank) tried and failed to make online music lockers appealing to the masses. Amazon's entry into the field strikes me as no more appealing than its forebears, although it has a few advantages that may improve its prospects.

The basic problem with locker services is that they don't entertain. They merely provide access to one's music collection remotely, kind of the way an MP3 player does but with a less satisfying user interface. (For example, it takes three clicks to play any song stored in Cloud Drive. Ugh.) And unless the service buys licenses from the rights holders to make copies of tracks for their customers, users have to upload their songs into their lockers manually. So if you have a sizable music collection, filling your locker can be painfully laborious and time-consuming.

Amazon's Cloud Drive service boasts three potentially useful features that the failed locker services of yore didn't have:

  • It's tied to Amazon's MP3 store, and the company automatically puts a copy of your purchases into your locker.
  • It has an Android app, so it works on Android-powered smartphones and tablets. Those devices have less storage than the typical PC, so it makes sense to use them with an online locker.
  • It can store other types of files too, including pictures and videos. Those files tend to be large, though, and Amazon provides only 5 GB of locker online free. Go above that limit and the service gets pricey in a hurry, charging $1 per year for each gigabyte. (Files bought through Amazon don't count against the storage limit.)

The biggest shortcoming of the service is probably the inability to automate uploads. Users have to browse through the computers to find the files they want to put in their lockers, and there's no way to have the locker automatically copy newly acquired MP3s -- unless they're bought from Amazon. That doesn't compare well with Rdio's ability to scan your music collection and fill a locker for you (a feature that Rdio includes in its $5-a-month music-streaming service, and that it has to pay the music industry extra royalties for).

I doubt that Amazon launched the service to sell online lockers. Instead, it appears to be an attempt to add value to Amazon's MP3 store. For now, at least, Amazon is the only place to buy music that's automatically available wherever you go on your (Android) smartphone or tablet, or on any computer you use. But then, Lala offered that and more, letting people fill their lockers with streaming-only songs that cost only 10 cents each. And by the time Apple bought Lala in December 2009, it had yet to break even.

ALSO:

Amazon Cloud Player beats Apple and Google to the market

Apple unlimited music downloads: a step to streaming?

AT&T's bandwidth caps: a bad deal for whom?

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.

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