Amazon Launches Cloud Drive And Cloud Player For Music; First Look

Amazon’s latest entertainment play is live: a music locker in the cloud and players for the web and Android. Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) Cloud Drive can store more than music while Amazon’s Cloud Players for web and Android aren’t limited to playing music it sells but the new service comes with strong advantages for Amazon MP3 Store buyers. Together with the recently introduced VOD streaming for Amazon Prime subscribers, this move makes a clear statement that Amazon intends not only to be a retailer but an entertainment destination.

Some details below; more details in the release:

— Amazon customers start with 5 GB of storage free; you have to have an account.

— Buying an MP3 album from Amazon earns an instant free upgrade for a year to 20 GB. Sorry, previous purchases don’t count.

— Without purchases, additional storage starts at 20 GB for $20 a year (given that Amazon offers some albums for $5, not the smart way to go) and runs $1 per GB in increments of 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000.

— Amazon MP3 purchases don’t count against storage limits.

— Amazon estimates 20GB can store up to 4,000 tracks, 8,000 photos or 1.5 hours of HD video. If you’re going to store high-quality video, it’s going to cost you; digital video buys from Amazon don’t come with the same free storage guarantee as music.

— Files can be in AAC or MP3 formats and will be uploaded to Cloud Drive in the original bit rate

— Songs larger than 100 MB won’t be uploaded.

— Non-music audio files aren’t supported. That includes audiobooks, podcasts and ringtones.

— Cloud Player for Android is bundled into the latest version of the MP3 App.

— The player works on Macs but not with iOS. (I tried Safari and Skyfire on the iPad.) [Note: Some aspects are working now.]

— Files can only be uploaded from Macs or PCs, not from mobile devices.

How does it work? This being Amazon, it looks simple at first but requires a separate element to actually work. Buying MP3s from Amazon online requires a downloader so of course, uploading requires an uploader using Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE) Air. As soon as the app opens it starts searching your entire hard drive for eligible music in iTunes and Windows Media Player to upload unless you stop it and opt for a manual upload. Music limited to devices or platforms by DRM won’t be uploaded.

My first search on my laptop (a MacBook Air primarily running Windows 7), where my Zune subscription music is stored along with albums from my collection, turned up 235 songs to upload and 477 tracks that couldn’t be. I was able to copy the list of ineligible songs to the clipboard and paste it to look over; sure enough, most, if not all, were WMA tracks limited to my subscription. Amazon estimated it would take an hour and 39 minutes to upload the 235 tracks; I opted instead to try one 15-track album, bringing the estimate down to six minutes. It wasn’t exact but close enough. Within minutes, I could listen to the song from the cloud player.

Then I tried buying a song. Well, I started with a freebie that reminded me why some songs are free. I chose to download it directly to the Cloud Drive; within seconds it was available in the Cloud Player. Next step, a purchase from the MP3 store that would give me 20 GB storage for a year. Amazon has a batch of albums at $1.99-$3.99 for just this purpose; I opted for Featuring Norah Jones. This time, Amazon automatically put it on the cloud drive; I can change the setting but as is the case with Kindle, once you choose a one-click download option it stays until you change it.

Now I can listen to eclectic Norah Jones tracks, download one or all (with the MP3 Downloader), and make a playlist. Unfortunately, so far Amazon Cloud Drive doesn’t recognize my purchase as a reason to bump up the size of my storage locker.

So what does it mean? On the personal level, once the setup is done, it’s a fairly simple way to store and move music. The streaming option makes it easy to pick up songs you aren’t carrying with you; the download option allows offline listening and portability between devices.

On the macro level, Amazon notches some points for getting to the cloud ahead of Google (NSDQ: GOOG) or Apple (NSDQ: AAPL). It also makes Amazon more important than Google to Android users when it comes to music, at least for now. Most important, it gives Amazon the music equivalent of Kindle, or at least the start of one — meshing its store, access and storage all in one.

It also comes with rules. Use Amazon’s storage, play Amazon’s game. For one, the service is U.S. based and access from outside the U.S. can be limited according to the terms of use. If you’re planning to use Amazon instead of a home server or a local drive to store music while you travel, you may wind up with the sounds of silence. Amazon can collect information about the hardware and player or drive usage. Your access can be suspended or terminated; see that previous bit about silence.