So much for Apple's much-rumoured, cloud-based music service: Amazon's beaten it to the punch with Cloud Drive, Cloud Player for Web and Cloud Player for Android.
Apple's own iTunes cloud service is expected later this year. We know that Google's currently using Google Music internally, so a release of that must be imminent. Spotify's been streaming music forever. And Microsoft...
Where the hell is Microsoft?
I'm beginning to think Microsoft has given up on home entertainment, Xbox games aside. Microsoft already has a digital locker in the form of Windows Live SkyDrive - 25GB of space for photos, videos and documents for free - but nobody seems to have thought "hey! This would be ace for music!"
Let's face it, all that Amazon's really offering here is a bit of free storage and a media player. Microsoft could bash that out in a tea break.
There appears to be a bit of a problem with the vision thing. Maybe Microsoft needs someone who can tell which way the wind's blowing, like the chap who spoke about Blu-ray in 2005: "Understand that this is the last physical format there will ever be," he said. "Everything's going to be streamed directly or on a hard disk."
Ahead in the clouds
Bill Gates was right, of course. As networks get faster and our mobile devices smarter, the idea of stuffing our entire entertainment collection into a single device is going to seem increasingly silly. Our devices will act as windows, enabling us to see and stream our stuff wherever we happen to be.
Streaming music is beginning to look awfully like the ebook market. It's not hard to imagine Amazon and Apple battling for first place, with Google trailing behind and a couple of niche players fighting over table scraps. One of those niche players is likely to be Microsoft, whose Zune Pass is hardly setting the Xbox alight; another will probably be Spotify, which still hasn't launched in the US.
Spotify's problem appears to be the record companies: while Sony and EMI are on board, the other big players aren't. Google's probably facing similar issues, and I suspect the reason Microsoft's Zune Pass is so pricey - around $15 per month for streaming - is because it's trying to keep the record companies happy.
That makes Amazon's service really interesting, because it doesn't have the labels' support: the WSJ says Sony for one is "disappointed" that Amazon has launched an "unlicensed" service. Amazon says it doesn't need a licence, because a digital locker is no different to an external hard disk.
It's an interesting argument that's currently being debated by lawyers: MP3.com's Michael Robertson used it to justify his MP3tunes digital locker service, which is currently being dragged through the US courts by EMI.
It's interesting to see Amazon take an identical approach - and it's also interesting to see that one of Robertson's key supporters is Google. What we're seeing here is a war on two fronts: we have tech firms battling with record companies to work out how the future of music will be delivered and who pays what, and we have tech firms battling one another to be the iTunes of streaming music.
And unless something big happens soon, we have Microsoft conceding another market to Amazon and Apple.
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