Amazon Launches Scan-and-Match Service For Cloud Player To Compete With Apple's iTunes Match
Amazon today launched a fully licensed scan-and-match cloud music service giving it a better competitor to Apple's similar service, iTunes Match. For $25 a year, Cloud Player users can duplicate their music collection in the cloud without having to upload each file individually.
Amazon secured licenses from all four major labels and over 150 independent music companies in order to add this upgrade to the Cloud Player service. Cloud Player will scan a user's iTunes and Windows Media libraries and match the songs to Amazon's catalog of 20 million tracks. All matched songs, whether or not they were purchased or ripped from CDs, will be upgraded to 256kbps audio quality. Tracks that users have already uploaded to Cloud Player will also be upgraded.
Cloud Player's scan-and-match service will work with any Android device, Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet, iPhone, iPod Touch and any web browser. Amazon says the service will soon be available for Roku set-top boxes and Sonos home digital music systems.
Amazon launched its cloud storage service, called Cloud Drive, and a cloud-based music player called Cloud Player, in March 2011. Both are integrated with Amazon's MP3 store so that songs and albums purchases can be immediately stored in Cloud Drive and later played with Cloud Player. Amazon purchases don't count against storage limits. Amazon gives consumers 5GB of free storage space and charges for more.
But until now Cloud Drive has been more dumb than smart. Because Amazon did not have licenses required for more robust features, music files had to be uploaded to Cloud Drive one at a time. Thus, uploading a catalog required both time and bandwidth. In contrast, iTunes Match can create a cloud-based duplicate of a person's music collection without the need to upload each file individually.
Amazon's launch of an unlicensed Cloud Drive created some resentment from labels who didn't want cloud storage to go unlicensed. The month after launching, Amazon shot back in a letter to labels  that Cloud Drive has boosted MP3 sales and was, from a licensing standpoint, fundamentally no different than an external hard drive.
The jury is out on the impact Cloud Player can make. Users of the iTunes desktop client can simply opt for iTunes Match, and although iPhone and iPad owners can use Cloud Drive there seems to be little chance of Apple users crossing over to Amazon. That leaves Android smartphones and tablets - including Amazon's own Kindle Fire tablet. On Android smartphones Amazon has to worry about Google's own music store and (unlicensed) storage service.
Cloud Player's success could come down to the popularity of the Kindle Fire tablet. Amazon is planning to launch more versions of the tablet later this year. Aside from greater adoption, Amazon will be helped by the fact that consumers use tablets as entertainment hubs. According to a recent study by ABI Research http://www.iab.net/mobileusage, 74% of tablet owners listen to music while reading compared to 48% of smartphone owners. ABI also found that tablet owners spend more on ecommerce transactions than smartphone owners.