Amazon.com beat Google and Apple to the punch this week with the unveiling of its hosted consumer-storage service, Amazon Cloud Drive, and web-based music-player, Cloud Player.
Amazon has offered cloud storage and web services for some time, but this latest offering is noteworthy because it's available to just about anyone. And it's free.
Here's a look at why Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player might be perfect for your online storage needs ... and why it might not.
1) Amazon Cloud Drive availability
Amazon's Cloud Drive service and Cloud Player are available to any and all Amazon.com customers with Internet access, regardless of geographic location. However, some customers will not be able to upgrade or expand their initially allotted storage space, at least for the time being. No purchase is necessary to employ Cloud Drive; you can simply upload music already stored on your computer to get started.
All Amazon customers get 5GB of free Cloud Drive storage and the company is offering an additional 15GB of 'free' storage, for a total of 20GB, to any US customer who purchases an album from Amazon MP3, the official Amazon digital music store, for a limited time.
However, storage capacity upgrades are currently unavailable in a number of countries and locales, including the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden. (For a complete list of countries that have access to only the free 5GB of Amazon cloud storage, visit Amazon's web page.)
2) Amazon's Cloud Drive is not just for music
Amazon focuses on music storage and playback in its Cloud Drive and Cloud Player announcements, but users can store many different kinds of content in addition to tunes, according to an online letter to customers from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
"Store your photos, videos, documents, and whatever you'd like, in the cloud," Bezos wrote.
But, again, you must use a PC or Mac to upload content to Amazon's cloud.
3) Limited Amazon Cloud mobile-device support
The Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player services work with any Mac, PC or Android mobile device, but users on other mobile platforms are out of luck, for now at least.
Some crafty iPhone users have come up with a couple of 'workarounds' to enable Cloud Drive music playback, but it's a rather tedious process.
You can access and download music stored in Amazon's Cloud Drive, but you cannot upload media from an Android device to Amazon's servers; you currently need to employ a PC or Mac to upload content.
4) Unlimited access to Amazon Cloud Drive
One of the coolest things about Amazon Cloud Drive and the Cloud Player is that they can be used via any Internet-connected Mac, PC or Android smartphone, with no maximum number of devices that can access your storage. In other words, you can simply log in to your Amazon.com account to play and download your files using any web-connected computer or Android phone from wherever you may be.
5) Amazon Cloud Drive is "secure"... but is it reliable?
"Each [Cloud Drive] file is stored within Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3); the same highly scalable, reliable, fast, data storage infrastructure that Amazon uses to run its own global network of websites ... Access to your Cloud Drive is controlled through your Amazon.com user ID and password. All communications are encrypted using HTTPs, so that your data can pass securely over the Internet."
So Amazon says its Cloud Drive online storage service is secure, and for the most part, I believe it ... but I have reason to question just how reliable Cloud Drive will prove to be over time.
First, music industry heavies including Sony are already calling foul over Amazon Cloud Drive, citing issues with proper licencing, which Amazon has reportedly not received. The situation could lead to some sort of legal battle or settlement that might end in Amazon pulling the service or drastically altering functionality.
Second, Amazon has pulled some sketchy "tricks" in the past with digital content its customers purchased online, so it's within reason to imagine that the web giant might do so again. For example, in the summer of 2009, Amazon quietly pulled digital copies of George Orwell books from Kindle users devices without consent, causing a privacy uproar.
Amazon said at the time that it wouldn't pull Kindle books like that again, but history has a tendency to repeat itself.
6) Amazon Cloud Drive storage tiers
Amazon spotlighted the free 5GB storage offer in its Cloud Drive announcement, but you can already expand your Amazon cloud storage to up to 1,000GB. Pricing is by the year, with a variety of tiers. For example, you can purchase 20GB of storage for $20 a year; 100GB of storage for $100 a year; and 1000GB of Amazon cloud space for $1000 per year. Fifty GB, 200GB and 500GB plans are also available.
Another perk: Any digital music purchased from Amazon MP3 is stored for free, without taking up any or your own personal storage space. So, in effect, you get unlimited storage for content bought via Amazon.
7) Amazon Cloud Player is a Battery Hog
After putting Amazon's Cloud Player through the paces, via a Mac on Wi-Fi and an Android smartphone on AT&T HSPA+ cellular network, it became very clear to me that Amazon's web-based music player needs a lot of battery powerthough this is to be expected of just about any streaming music service.
My Mac on Wi-Fi vied much better than my Motorola Atrix 4G Android handheld on AT&T, but you'll definitely want to keep your computer or smartphone plugged in while using Amazon Cloud player, if possible - or at least have access to a spare battery or power outlet - or you won't be listening for long.
Pop over to Amazon.com for more information on Cloud Drive and Cloud Player.