There was plenty of speculation regarding iCloud. Apple was going to deliver a Cloud service done right and music was going to be at the forefront. With deals completed with Sony, EMI and others, everything was in place for Monday’s announcement at WWDC. Both Amazon and Google had already launched their services. Google’s Music Beta is as the title suggests is an invite only beta. Amazon offers no clear method of listening to music in your “cloud drive” from your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Both of those services have gaps and certainly aren’t geared for iDevice owners. Surely Apple would rise to the occasion and deliver the world class streaming music service?
I have roughly 42 GB of music in my iTunes library. I’ve been putting off uploading to Google Music Beta due the sheer size of my library. Google does have a Mac compatible app that will help you with the process. It runs in the background and will resume if you turn your computer off mid-upload. Same goes for Amazon, but the 50GB I’d need to upload my music would cost $50 per year. With no iOS client in place, there’s no reason I’d commit to Amazon. Their upload client isn’t very easy to use. To be honest, despite being a regular customer of Amazon for MP3’s, I’ve never been a fan of their download app. To expect their upload client for Mac to be fantastic would be unrealistic.
Apple realized that customers do not want to spend hours upon hours uploading music to the cloud, any cloud, regardless of the benefit. iTunes in the Cloud gets this right. Software scans your music and all of your iTunes purchases are automatically available to sync to other iDevices, direct from the iCloud. There is no need to upload these purchases to iCloud. Easy, as you’d expect from Apple. What about the that rare live Ozzy song sitting in my iTunes library that was never released? How about music that you’ve ripped from your personal CD’s? Apple has got you covered. Steve Jobs used his “one more thing” to announce iTunes Match, a service that allows you to transfer all of your music to the iCloud for $24.99 per year.
Your music is then subsequently synced to all of your iDevices. If for some reason a song is not on a particular device, you can easily select an option to download it to your device. iCloud is the ultimate syncing and backup option. So far, so good.
Here’s where Apple misses the mark. To listen to music on your iPhone, you need to open Music and the physical music file needs to be on your iPhone. If it’s not there, you need to download it first from the iCloud, before you can listen. There is no option to stream from the cloud. From a music perspective, this limits functionality of the iTunes in the Cloud service to a backup and sync solution. The final piece of the puzzle in today’s iCloud announcement should have been the ability to listen to your library from any device or web browser. From Apple’s perspective, the trouble with that equation is that it removes reliance on your iDevice. Open access to iCloud data could open the door for a wide array of network streaming devices to utilize your media in the cloud. Having used both Logitech’s Squeezebox and Sonos, I had high hopes that Apple would permit third party access. It would eradicate the need for an NAS (network attached storage) server. Both products allow you to listen to music from your iTunes, but it requires that your computer be turned on. Removing servers and the need to have your computers on would be an extremely powerful and attractive solution.
Both Amazon and Google miss the mark when it comes to making it easy to get your music into the cloud. That would seem to be the biggest hurdle in making any cloud service successful. With iTunes vast library, the ability to scan your hard drive for purchased music and making it available, allows Apple to easily clear that hurdle. They were so close to the finish line, but stopped running at the key point of the race. Why go through all the trouble to get folks using iCloud and then fail to offer what seems like a logical feature? It couldn’t be the record companies or else Google and Amazon wouldn’t be offering these services. Bandwidth couldn’t be the issue. Android devices can stream music today from Google Music Beta. When I finally get around to uploading my music to Google Music Beta, I’ll be able to listen to any of my 42GB library with my Nexus One and it’s paltry 8GB of storage. I can also use any computer, which makes it tremendously accessible. In fact, I don’t need a phone to listen my music.
With Apple’s iCloud, you need an iPhone or iDevice to listen to music. Due to the size of my library, there is no way I can carry all my music with me. If and when Apple releases a 64GB model, that will be the model I’ll buy. Before Apple outlined how iCloud would work, I wasn’t so sure. If Apple would have delivered a streaming service via iCloud, the case for a more expensive phone becomes less compelling. 16GB or even 32GB would be more than enough to carry my Apps, Photos and my most recently downloaded music. The latter would have me covered should I find myself outside of wireless coverage. That’s not an option with today’s iCloud service.
For some reason, Apple failed to address the most attractive feature associated with a cloud music service. With iCloud syncing, backup and iTunes Match, Apple got so much right. The missing piece is the ability to enjoy your media from any device, anywhere. So much of iTunes in the Cloud was done right, but it’s sorely missing that one more thing, the ability to listen to music stored in the iCloud.