Understanding more about Amazon Cloud Player and storing music in the cloud

Last week saw the UK launch of Amazon’s Cloud Player, a service enabling Amazon users to play their music stored in the cloud (through Amazon’s Cloud Drive) from any computer or Android device connected to the Internet. The service was launched in the US back in July, and now Amazon’s UK customers will be able to experience the same service. These are the main propositions that the Cloud Player is promising to offer:

  1. Your Music. Everywhere. – Seamless access to one’s music is rapidly becoming a ‘given’ when it comes to offering music services. Irrespective of the device one is using – smartphone, tablet, PC or ebook reader – users expect to be able to access music wherever, whenever. No surprise then that this is the main underlying promise of the Cloud Player: your music is available on a range of devices (e.g. Android, iPod, iPhone, Sonos, etc.) and the experience will be consistent across all of these devices and platforms.
  2. Import your music collection – Like iTunes Match and Google Play, Amazon’s Cloud Player will enable users to upload their own music collections, with Amazon matching the music on your PC to their 20m track catalogue. This means that music purchased from Amazon or iTunes or from ripped CDs will be matched against Amazon’s catalogue, upgraded (to a better audio quality where possible) and made available through the Cloud Player.
  3. Secure and easy to use – Amazon promises that for all the MP3 songs and albums users purchase or have purchased in the past will be automatically saved to Cloud Player, which means you’ll have a secure backup copy of the music you buy at Amazon. The ‘secure’ and ‘instant’ aspect are key to any service of this kind. I haven’t used the Cloud Player yet but this would be main challenges to any product or service which promises a great user experience. Is is easy to use? Does is ‘just work’?

I haven’t yet tried the Cloud Player, but reading user and expert reviews gives an interesting insight into this new service. The main thing that struck me is that users are restricted from buying songs through the Cloud Player app on Apple devices (think iPhone, iPad and Mac). This means that one can use the Cloud Player for listening and streaming on an Apple device but not for buying music. I know I’m biased (since I work for 7digital, a competitor of iTunes and Amazon Music) but this defeats the purpose of using a service that promises to work ‘everywhere’.

Main learning point: I guess the main caveat to this blog post is that, as I say, I work for a (smaller) competitor of Amazon in 7digital. At 7digital, we always try to concentrate on a consistent user experience that ‘just works’ irrespective of the device or operating system one uses. Services like Amazon Cloud Player are good solutions for anyone who wishes to ‘consolidate’ his/her music collection. I guess the main downside of using the likes of Amazon and iTunes is that they are pretty ‘vertical’ which means that their products only work totally seamlessly and as intended on their own devices and operating systems, which has bearing on the overall user experience.

Related links for further learning:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/amazon/9550721/Amazon-announces-cloud-player-in-the-UK.html

http://www.techradar.com/news/internet/amazon-cloud-player-heads-to-the-uk-1098144

http://lifehacker.com/5930593/amazon-cloud-player-adds-scan-and-match-to-save-you-time-when-uploading-your-music?tag=streaming-music

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ewanspence/2012/09/19/amazons-cloud-player-arriving-in-the-uk-is-a-vital-step-for-kindles-success/

http://allthingsd.com/20120903/demystifying-amazons-cloud-player/

http://cloud-music-player-review.toptenreviews.com/amazon-cloud-player-review.html

http://download.cnet.com/8301-2007_4-20048416-12.html

http://lockergnome.net/questions/129952/will-you-use-amazon-cloud-player

Learning about streaming, Part 2: ubiquitous streaming from the cloud

A few blog posts ago, I wrote about streaming and tried to clarify what this involves. One of the upcoming digital trends of 2011 is cloud-based streaming of music. Good examples of this new trend are Apple’s iCloud service and Amazon’s Cloud Drive, but also the likes of Spotify, Pandora and Google are now very active in this area (see overview below).

I’m sure that this field will further evolve in 2011 with existing providers solidifying this revenue stream and new providers jumping the bandwagon. These are some of the things that I have learned so far about music streaming:

  1. The service – On-demand streaming is all about delivering tracks and albums, providing users with easy access to online music across a number of platforms (web, mobile). With the cloud component, there’s also the option of user storing all their music. Apple’s iCloud for instance scans all of user’s music (including digital downloads not through iTunes) and matches it with the music catalogue in the iTunes Store and automatically stores it in iCloud.
  2. The business model – This kind service is either free (totally free or to an extent), supported by advertising or a paid-for model (with users subscribing to the service and providers offering basic and premium packages).
  3. Changed consumer behaviour? – I guess the long-term success of music streaming will very much  depend on whether consumers are happy to pay just for access to music (instead of downloading and owning the music). A recent US survey found that that more than half of respondents preferred to purchase music files online, the top way of consuming music.Only 13% of online music consumers preferred to pay for online streaming (see survey results below). Another recent survey indicated that streaming services discourages music purchasing, which is the kind behaviour that might well only apply to those converted to music streaming and access.

Main learning point: it will be interesting to see how providers of music streaming services will shape their business models to generate sustainable revenue from streaming. In terms of consumer uptake, will it be case of only select group of people willing to pay for streaming and the large majority of users to stick with free music (streaming)?

Profile of Select Cloud-Based Digital Music Services , 2011

Method of Purchasing or Listening to Music According to US Online Music Consumers, Sep 2011 (% of respondents)

Related links for further learning:

http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?id=1fb008713&R=1008713

http://www.abiresearch.com/press/3640

http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/stories/091411ownership

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_online_music_databases

http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/spotiwhy-are-subscription-music-services-a-sustainable-busin.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/oct/07/online-music-streaming-we7-turnover

http://musicindustryblog.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/the-digital-music-year-that-was-2011-in-review-and-2012-predictions/

http://digitalmusicnews.com/permalink/2011/111222spotify

IBM buys DemandTec – What does this deal tell us?

IBM’s recent acquisition of DemandTec sits within IBM’s “Smarter Commerce” initiative. This strategy is all about enabling businesses to quickly adjust prices, promotions and other marketing efforts by analysing online and in-store buying trends. One could argue that this deal is just a takeover like many others. However, these are some of the things about this deal that sparked my interest:

  1. Big software companies are all at it – Recent weeks have seen similar deals by SAP and Oracle respectively. Like the takeover of DemandTec, the purchases of SuccessFactors (by SAP) and RightNow (by Oracle) are aimed at becoming a ‘software-as-a-service’ (SaaS) company.
  2. Software as a service (SaaS) – It sounds sexy but what does SaaS actually mean? Whereas many traditional software companies like IBM and SAP used to be about client-side servers and databases, today’s focus is shifting much more towards providing clients with web-based solutions, with users only needing an Internet browser to access the service. I started writing about this trend a while ago just because it seems quite a big strategic shift for most traditional software vendors.
  3. ‘Smarter Commerce’ sounds great but what does it mean? – I learned that Smarter Commerce is another way to phrase IBM’s intention to generate revenue out of providing businesses with cloud-based analytics products that enable them to make well-informed business decisions and to respond to customer trends in a timely and appropriate fashion. This is exactly the kind of business in which DemandTec operates.
  4. At the end of the day, it’s all about the cloud –  The aforementioned shift towards SaaS is seen as part of cloud computing which for instance means that to use the software provided by the likes of DemandTec or Salesforce.com a user typically only needs an Internet browser and, equally significantly, the software is designed in such a way that multiple clients and users can use it for their own unique purposes.
Main learning point: the recent acquisition of DemandTec by IBM signifies an interesting strategic shift towards cloud-based ‘software as a service’ products. The kind of data analytics products which DemandTec provide are all web based, accessible through an Internet browser, and which are geared towards being applied in a wide range of user scenarios, applicable to the greatest number of customers. For software stalwarts like SAP and IBM who have a made a lot of money providing large business with customised software solutions, this seems quite a drastic change of interests. To be continued.

Related links for further learning:

http://www-03.ibm.com/press/uk/en/pressrelease/36370.wss

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/btl/ibm-buys-demandtec-for-440-million-adds-to-analytics-commerce-line-up/64984

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-08/ibm-buys-demandtec-for-440-million-to-add-consumer-buying-trend-tools.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_as_a_service

First there was Niall Murphy, now there is Eric Ries

A few months ago, I went to a talk by Niall Murphy at London Business School where he talked to a large group of MBA students about “An experience & perspective from a serial startup tech entrepreneur”. Niall co-founded  The Cloud, one of the first major players in the wireless network (WiFi) market, which business was then sold for a ‘handsome sum’ to BSkyB. In his talk, Murphy described the process from “insight” (having a new business idea and turning it into a business) to “next phase / exit”. I liked how he broke this process down into some distinct stages (obviously helped by the beautiful thing that is hindsight):

  1. Insight – This is the phase where Murphy saw an an opportunity in mobile ethernet technology, when faced by the difficulty of getting Internet access in Amsterdam.
  2. Idealistic vision –  I guess it’s one thing to spot an opportunity, but how do you then assess its potential and act on it? Murphy explained his original idea of mobile Internet everywhere and then went on to stress the importance of having a vision. A vision that you must try and stick with, a set of values, an aspiration to hang onto.
  3. Wilderness and fog – Murphy took us through the ‘dark’ years; working his way through wireless technology and finding initial investment. This phase is all about finding a foothold, and developing a picture in your head of the current marketplace and the way in which it’s likely to evolve. 
  4. Clarity and catalyst opportunity – Murphy pointed out that this stage is very much an evolving process; assessing the market space and competitors, concentrating on key user scenarios, all based on your original insight.
  5. Clarity of market entry strategy and catalyst opportunity – This phase is all about creating a market entry strategy that works for your business, finding a way to ‘change the game’. In Murphy’s case this meant linking with a company that specialised in putting game computers in pubs and shops. The Cloud piggybacked on the broadband network that this company was rolling out across their game computer locations.
  6. Execution and leverage – The Cloud focused very much on so-called ‘golden events’ to create more leverage and momentum (then using their small PR machine to create leverage around these events)  as well as concentrating day-to-day business.
  7. Crisis and tough stuff – Murphy made it very clear that starting your own business is by no means a case of an upward facing curve. In the case of The Cloud, they had their fair share of internal crises, drastic business decisions and an overall fear of things falling apart.
  8. “2nd life” – They say that crises and challenges make you stronger. In the case of The Cloud, following the crisis phase, they slowed down the rate of execution, consolidated the business and thus regained their focus.
  9. Next level or exit? – Murphy explained how he had come to realise that the market in which The Cloud operated had changed. It was no longer a young market, instead it was a becoming a big, more established market. He felt that the company was at a crossroads and after careful consideration, Murphy sold The Cloud to BSkyB and became a non-executive director in June 2010.
Main learning point: Hearing someone like Niall Murphy talk through his experiences of founding and then successfully selling a startup business was insightful and inspiring at the same time. I guess what I liked particularly about Murphy’s story was the different stages he and the business went through, which he presented in an honest but exciting way. The MBA students seemed to be soaking it up and so was I.
It makes me wonder how I will feel about Eric Ries who some people regard as a ‘startup guru’ and describe as a rockstar in the startup scene. I will be going to Ries’ London book presentation tomorrow night and it looks like a lot of the great and good of young, talented UK entrepreneurs will be joining me. Will Ries’ story turn out to be as interesting and inspiring as Murphy’s? Will he be as likeable and down to earth as Murphy? Will keep you posted.

Endless possibilities in the cloud

It was interesting the other day to read an online piece on 10 Technologies That Will Change the World in the Next 10 Years. Perhaps not surprisingly, the cloud was the third technology mentioned in this overview.

We’ve already got video and music being accessed and stored in the cloud, the general expectation is that the cloud will soon extend to ‘endpoint devices’ (read: mobile):

  1. Voice search on Android phones – A good example is the voice search on the Android phone which sends sends the query to the Google cloud to decipher and to return results.
  2. More intelligence built into communication devices –  Think for example about using the cloud to facilitate real-time translation or location based technologies.
  3. Rise of services to protect privacy and security – Having more services based in the cloud almost automatically means an increase in the number of cloud-based solutions available to protect devices against malware.
Main learning point: I feel like I’m continuously discovering new possibilities with respect to cloud computing, whether it’s real-time translation or tracking mobile users 24/7. The cloud is without doubt one of those areas that will keep developing and that I hopefully will learn a lot more about.
Related links for further learning: 

http://www.networkworld.com/supp/2009/ndc3/051809-cloud-faq.html

http://www.networkcomputing.com/wan-security/229500450

iCloud: what’s all the hype about?

This week saw Apple launching its iCloud music streaming and online data storage service. It will enable users to instantly access any song purchased on iTunes on any device. Anything downloaded from the iTunes Store will be made available on all your Apple devices for free.

In addition, for $25 a year, iTunes Match will take every song from your iTunes library – including those songs ripped from your CD collection or downloaded ‘elsewhere’ – and store them on Apple servers in the cloud.

Users will thus be able to download any of their (up to 20,000) tracks stored in the cloud onto their iPad/iPhone/Mac/PC without spending hours transferring the music across.

Since the official introduction of iCloud at the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) earlier this week there has been a quite of hype about it. But what is it all about, what makes iCloud different from any of the other cloud based services?

  1. It’s Apple! – By default, every WWDC is looked at with much anticipation, by developers and users alike. However, Apple cynics see iCloud as yet another way to tie customers further into the Apple eco-system.
  2. It includes non-iTunes purchased songs – iTunes Match will enable users to store any songs ripped from their CDs or downloaded/purchased elsewhere.
  3. It has two advantages over its main competitors – Unlike iCloud’s competition – Amazon’s Cloud Drive and Google’s Music Beta – Apple seems to have agreements in place with most of the major music labels and publishers. More importantly, Apple has the complimentary hardware that the likes of Amazon, Google or Dropbox don’t have. If you already own a Mac or an iPhone it does make a lot of sense to use iCloud and to sign up for iTunes Match.

Main learning point: I now have a better understanding of what all the hype has been about. Apple has launched a free cloud-based storage service that promises user friendliness and the end of worrying about licensing and digital rights. However, for iCloud to fullfil its promise I believe it all comes down to uptake and web access: “will users buy (into) iTunes Match?” and “will iCloud eventually become accessible via the web (and not just via Apple devices)?” It will be interesting to see whether (a) Apple customers are willing to move their music libraries to the cloud as well as pay for iTunes Match and (b) whether Apple will launch iCloud web apps in the near future.

Related links for further learning: 

http://www.readwriteweb.com/mobile/2011/06/icloud-for-developers.php

http://techcrunch.com/2011/05/31/apple-icloud/

http://www.zdnet.co.uk/blogs/mixed-signals-10000051/jobs-reveals-apples-icloud-new-itunes-ios-os-x-lion-10022638/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ICloud

http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/05/apple-announces-icloud-steve-jobs-wwdc-keynote/

http://thenextweb.com/apple/2011/06/07/a-storm-ahead-for-apples-icloud-where-are-the-web-apps/

http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/06/01/icloud_preannouncement_leads_wall_street_to_expect_big_things_from_apple_at_wwdc.html

7digital improves its Android app and takes on mighty iTunes

7digital is stepping up to compete with iTunes by updating its Android app to include an in-app music download store along with acting as the default Android phone music player.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been learning a lot about innovative music businesses venturing into new partnerships and trying to make the most of their APIs. It is interesting to see how 7digital is now challenging iTunes, even going a step further by having the app sync with 7digital’s digital music locker feature so that tracks previously purchased from the service can be re-downloaded to a user’s handset.

This is what I learned about the full features of the new version of 7digital’s Android application:

  1. Access to 7digital’s catalogue of 14m MP3 tracks.
  2. Optimised mobile delivery.
  3. Ability to access and sync tracks stored both locally on a user’s device and in 7digital’s cloud locker.
  4. Users can browse music by genre and new releases and search for artist, track or album names.
  5. Playlists can be created and managed within the application.
  6. 30 second previews of all tracks are available before purchase.

Main learning point: the latest version of 7digital’s Android application must be seen as a significant milestone within 7digital. It partners with a wide range of companies (think Blackberry’s PlayBook and Shazam) and this new Android all-in-one music player cum download store will in my view prove to be a further boost to their offering to both existing and future partners.

Related links for further learning:

http://eu.techcrunch.com/2011/05/04/7digital-opens-its-music-download-store-to-android/

http://blogs.7digital.com/blog/2011/05/04/7digital-brings-mp3-downloads-to-android/

http://techcrunch.com/2011/05/03/ipod-meet-spotify-itunes-say-hello-to-your-future-rival/