Now that Apple has at last revealed the details of its music service on the iCloud, we can finally get a sense of how it measures up to the existing competition.
Apple's iCloud and related iTunes Match are gunning straight for Amazon's Cloud Player and Google Music Beta, and based on the details revealed during Steve Jobs' speech today, Amazon and Google should be worried. When it comes to user ease, price point, and functionality, Apple's new service has a leg up.
It's important to note that the iCloud encompasses not only music, but contacts, email, calendar, photos, apps, ebooks as well. All of these components will be synced across devices and available for free. Only music purchased in iTunes will be synced for free, while music from other sources can be synced through its $24.99 a year iTunes Match service.
At $24.99 a year, Apple far undercuts Amazon, which offers 5 gigabytes (or about 1,000 songs) for free before switching to a pricing tier. For users with about 20,000 songs or 100 GB of music, Amazon charges $100 a year (each gigabyte per year is another dollar). Jobs noted that Apple will let users store an unlimited number of songs--still for $24.99. Google Music Beta, which is invite-only at the moment, is free.
But both Google and Amazon lag drastically behind Apple in one key capacity: Upload speed. While uploading full libraries of music to Amazon and Google’s service could take weeks, Apple’s will take mere minutes. Apple’s able to pull off this trick because of the music licenses Apple was reported to have signed. Basically, Apple doesn’t actually have to upload your music, just to scan your collection and then match it to their preexisting catalogue in the cloud. What can’t be matched is uploaded.
"We have 18 million songs in the music store. Our software will scan what you have, the stuff you've ripped, and figure out if there's a match,” Jobs said. “If you have to upload your whole library, that could take weeks. If we're scanning and matching, we don't have to upload them. They're in the cloud. It takes just minutes. Not weeks."
And, though purchased music is synced free to the iCloud, while iTunes Match is a paid service, songs from iTunes Match will receive quality upgrades to 256 kpbs AAC. All of the songs in the cloud will be available to push to any iOS device. Amazon’s Cloud Player works on the web, and on Android, or by accessing the site through an iPhone’s mobile browser. Google Music Beta also works on Android and on web.
When it comes to music purchased from iTunes, Apple’s also offering the same iCloud sync and push features as it is for other kinds of media. Users can set their preferences so that any song downloaded to any Apple device is automatically downloaded to their other devices. What’s more, users will be able to see a purchase history on any device and choose to download past purchases with a click.
But the biggest advantage in Apple's music service might be unrelated to music. By offering music as one feature of the far more comprehensive iCloud, Apple has made a logical, and powerful, move. While Google itself uses cloud storage for its Gmail and documents, Google Music Beta was launched as a separate, and less fully formed appendage of the Google machine. Amazon offers a Dropbox-like way to store files that also touts an ancillary player for music. Apple, however, has presented what seems to be an integrated bid to capture the cloud from multiple angles under one overarching philosophy.
"About 10 years ago, we had one of our most important insights. We thought the PC would be the hub for your digital life where you put your photos, your video, your music. You were going to acquire it, and sync it to the Mac, and everything would work fine. And it did... but it's broken down in the last few years," said Jobs. "We're going to demote the PC and the Mac to just be a device. We're going to move your hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud."