FIRST LOOK: Amazon’s Cloud Drive

Internet giant Amazon launched a new online storage service called Cloud Drive this week. But it’s far more than just online storage. Here’s a quick round-up where you find out what it is, why it’s cool, and why Amazon’s looking at the Big Picture with it.

Cloud Drive is an online storage service. You can get 5GB worth of disk space for free, or you can upgrade to 20GB for $20/year, 50GB for $50/year, 100GB for $100/year and so on. As a “limited time offer”, Amazon is offering a US residents a free one-year upgrade to 20GB if you buy any album from their mp3 store. And I do mean any album: I bought Radiohead’s Kid A album for $2.99 and got the free upgrade immediately.

So here’s what the Cloud Drive looks like:

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As you can see, it’s a pretty basic interface. There are default folders for documents, music, pictures and videos, and you can create any additional folders or subfolders you wish. There’s also a “Deleted Items” folder, just in case you accidentally delete the wrong thing. It’s pretty cool so far, right? But not very revolutionary?

Well check this out… Here’s Amazon’s Cloud Player:

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(click to embiggen)

You can access and play your music from any other computer via a web browser. Playlists are supported, and are easy to edit via drag and drop. Embedded album art is also supported, as is sorting by artist, album, or even genre. It might not be the prettiest interface ever written, but it’s functional, simple, and gets the job done.

But wait! There’s more!

Here’s Amazon’s updated Amazon MP3 app for Android:

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Yep, the same song that was just playing on my desktop computer is now playing on my phone! And this is Amazon’s Big Picture, and it’s why Cloud Drive is so cool.

It’s no secret that Android is, by far, the most popular smartphone operating system. In fact, Android recently hit a 53% market share, which exceeds the rest of the smartphone operating systems combined. And it’s only going to grow in the future, with hundreds of Droid-powered tablets due to hit the market soon.

But while iPhones have had iTunes built-in from day one, Android has been missing a killer audio player. The Android Market is full of apps that claim to work with iTunes and other PC-based players… but don’t. The recently released WinAMP for Android claims to offer wireless syncing over Wi-Fi, but this blog post has dozens of complaints about how it doesn’t work that well, especially on 64-bit versions of Windows. But even if it worked flawlessly, the WinAMP app only offers local syncing, which is great if you want to update your tunes while at home, but simply doesn’t work if you’re already away from home and want to hear a song.

And this is where Cloud Player comes in. I’ve only been using it for a few days, but so far its worked flawlessly on my phone. Just upload some songs from home (an optional Adobe AIR upload applet is available) or buy them from the Amazon store and the songs instantly show up on the Cloud Player, either on a desktop PC or your phone.

Amazon doesn’t count any music you purchase at the Amazon MP3 store against your Cloud Drive space… so if your crazy grandma sends you a $1,000 Amazon gift card, you could buy 1,000 mp3s and none of them would count against your 5GB limit. And Amazon has worked hard to make buying music and using the cloud as seamless as possible. If you buy music from the mp3 store, you can choose have it added to your Cloud Drive only, to have it downloaded only, or both. And if you use Amazon’s MP3 Downloader, you can (of course) have music downloaded to your computer automatically added to your iTunes library if you wish.

It doesn’t sound like much, but when you see it all working together it’s pretty awesome. I have 20GB of space (and seriously, that’s a lot of mp3s) that I can access anywhere. Many times I’ve been at friend’s houses and wanted to add my own music to the playlist. Or if I’m out with friends, I can easily let them hear some new song I like. If I’m on their computer, I can even download a copy to their computer (you cannot, however, download songs using the Android player).

Speaking of, the Android client uses multiple logins. You have to log in to your Amazon account to access your Cloud Drive to stream music. That login remains persistent, but that it doesn’t apply to the music store. So you don’t have to enter your password every single time you want to hear music (which is essentially read-only anyway), but the separate login for buying music means that if your phone is lost or stolen, someone can listen to your tunes, but they can’t charge hundreds of songs to your account. It’s a nice touch. Also nice is a throttling option that only allows access to Cloud Player if your phone is on Wi-Fi. For those of you trying to save bandwidth, it’s another nice touch.

It’s not perfect, though. One thing I really don’t like about Cloud Drive (as it applies to music anyway) is that the uploader reads the ID3 tags on your music and automatically creates a folder structure based on it (so, DURAN DURAN > RIO > SAVE A PRAYER). That’s fine if you’re in to albums and a handful of artists. But if, like me, you’re in to more “playlist oriented” music, with 300 songs by 288 different bands, it can be annoying to see all those folders with 1 or 2 songs in them. You can move the files if you wish, and (like iTunes) the Cloud Player only uses the metatag information and not file location information to organize songs. But still, it’s a minor annoyance.

I do have a larger… complaint of sorts, but it has little to do with Amazon. The one big problem I have with Amazon’s Cloud Drive is that it’s just one more cloud service.

I don’t care for Google Apps; I personally prefer Microsoft’s Office Web Apps. But neither Google nor Microsoft’s offerings play or sell music. And while Amazon’s Cloud Drive offers storage space for “documents”, it doesn’t give you any way to edit them. You know what would be awesome? If someone could somehow combine Amazon’s Cloud Drive with Microsoft’s Office Web Apps with Dropbox. You could, essentially, have an entire desktop in the cloud. And you know who could do that? Microsoft. This article by my personal hero Peter Bright talks about how Microsoft has all the pieces to make something great (but has failed miserably at doing so). It would be nice if Microsoft would lend (or, well, lease) their Office Web App tech to Amazon. As much as I’m enjoying their Cloud Drive and Cloud Player, a big part of me wishes that I could do everything from one single website.

2 Replies to “FIRST LOOK: Amazon’s Cloud Drive”

  1. I also find the music folder structure created by Cloud Drive to be annoying. I prefer to preserve the structure on my hard drive, thus what’s on the Cloud Drive acts as a mirrored backup of sorts. I wonder, however, whether forcing your own folder structure on the Cloud Drive affects performance of the music player. I can imagine that on Amazon’s side, music is indexed in a way to take advantage of the service’s default structure. Have you noticed any difference in performance? I might experiment to find out.

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