Cloud Wars Head Up With Launch of iTunes Match in U.S.
-- iTunes Match finally debuted in the United States on Monday in an update to the iTunes software. The new service's arrival comes two days before Google is expected to launch a music download store, and just one day before the arrival of Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet that integrates the company's ecommerce stores and Cloud Drive storage service.
It seems there was quite a bit of pent-up demand for iTunes Match. Early Monday afternoon Gizomodo reported Apple was temporarily blocking new registrations. By late Monday afternoon iTunes Match was still telling interested consumers that no new subscribers were being accepted and to "check back later."
iTunes Match is part of iCloud, Apple's cloud-based storage service for media and other types of digital files. iCloud launched Oct. 12 and has received good reviews. The service costs $24.99 per year and allows users to access their collection from any connected Mac or iOS device. Songs can also be accessed via Apple TV. All songs will be stored at 256 kbps AAC CD quality regardless of the quality of the original, matched file (although iTunes Match won't accept files with a quality lower than 96 kbps).
Once a user downloads and installs the new version of iTunes, an iTunes Match -- with a small cloud as a logo -- can be seen in the iTunes menu bar below the iTunes Store. The service is limited to 10 devices per user and 25,000 songs per account. iTunes purchases do not count against the limit.
Reviews are both sparse and mixed. A "hands on" review at MacStories called iTunes Match "extremely well executed" and noted it matched 1,307 songs in a collection of 1,500. But one iTunes Match user complained at Twitter of some problems with the service. "Hate to say it, but Google Music is better," he wrote.
While Amazon and Google have made streaming a key feature of their cloud storage services, Apple is sticking with its philosophy -- at least for the time being -- that consumers prefer downloads. As popular technology blog Lifehacker notes, neither iTunes Match nor iCloud allow users to stream music from the cloud. Instead, iTunes Match and iCloud allow a person to build an online music collection and download specific songs to an Apple device.
Kindle Fire A Solid Buy, But Won't Compete With iPad
-- With iTunes Match available in the United States on Monday, the launch of the Kindle Fire on Tuesday and an announcement about Google's download store probably coming Wednesday, the direction of "the big three" is pretty clear: on-demand access to digital media on a variety of synchronized devices.
Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet won't be able to compete with Apple's iPad at the high end of the market, but it could became a powerhouse at the low end of the market -- and there are always a lot more low-value customers than high-value ones.
Not that Amazon is seeking to make money only on the hardware. The Kindle Fire is all about online shopping and enjoying digital content, says a helpful and thorough product review at tech blog Engadget. Battery life was found to be decent -- 7:42 of video -- and comparable to tablets by HP, Motorola and Lenovo (but well behind Apple). The talked-about Silk web browser was found to be "mighty quick given its limited internals."
As for the Kindle Fire's integration with Amazon's Cloud Drive and MP3 store, Engadget found accessing, streaming and purchasing music to be straightforward. The device got low scores for speaker quality -- not that anybody should expect much from a tablet's speaker -- as well as audio quality for headphone playback. "Audiophile quality this isn't," the reviewer warned.
Overall, Engadget called the Kindle Fire "quite an achievement at $200" and "perhaps the best, tightest integration of digital content acquisition into a mobile device that we've yet seen." While it's not a perfect experience -- especially for people used to an iPad experience -- "if nothing else it's a promising look into the future of retail commerce."
Keith Rothschild Leaving WBR
-- Warner Bros. Records' national director of pop promotion Keith Rothschild will leave the company on Dec. 31, 2011. In a statement, Rothschild explained that his decision not to take Warner Bros.' offer to relocate to Burbank, Calif., was "what is best for my family."
"Keith is a beloved member of the Warner Bros. Records family, and his spirit will always roam the hallways of our headquarters," said Peter Gray, senior VP for Warner Bros./Reprise. "We all salute his impassioned contributions to our artists & their music over the years -- and respect the decision to protect his No. 1 priority: Family."