Amazon's launch of Cloud Drive and Cloud Player yesterday shows just how serious the company is about offering up a challenge to Apple's media dominance.
First, let's take a look at Cloud Drive and Cloud Player. Basically, Cloud Drive is 5GB of free storage that anyone with an Amazon.com account can get access to, and if you've bought an MP3 track from Amazon then you can get that upgraded to 20GB for the first year. Cloud Drive is basically a consumer front-end to Amazon's Web Services S3 platform. If your storage needs go beyond the free 5GB then you're paying $1 per GB per year (20GB = $20/yr, 50GB = $50/yr ... up to 1,000GB for $1,000/yr).
Your Cloud Drive offers up four default folders that allow you to organize your uploads:
This storage is accessible via the browser on both the PC and Mac.
So where does Cloud Player fit in? Cloud Player is an Android app (actually an update to Amazon's existing MP3 app) that allows you to stream music stored on the Cloud Drive to your Android device over both 3G and WiFi. The service has only been live for a day and the recording industry is already kicking off, arguing that this is an unlicensed music streaming service (despite the fact that end users are only accessing music they've bought from Amazon legitimately or their own library). I'm in no doubt that the legality of the Cloud Player will ultimately be determined in a court of law. For now it's here and the music industry needs to get used to it.
Note: Video streaming isn't currently on offer, but I expect that it's in the pipeline.
OK, so that's what we have right now. 5GB of storage with emphasis on being able to use it for streaming music. It could be seen as a way to cross-promote Amazon's MP3 store and give exposure a consumer version of Web Services S3. But it isn't.
In fact, there's a lot more to this than meets the eye.
Let's take a look at what Amazon currently offers aside from the books, DVDs and CDs. First there's Kindle (both the hardware and software versions) offering ebooks. Then there's Audible audiobooks. And there's the MP3 store. Oh and there's Amazon Instant video offering streamed movies and TV shows (free to Amazon Prime members). And don't forget that Amazon has a game and software download store, as well as its own Android App Store.
In other words, Amazon has in place a massive digital downloads ecosystem. All it now needs is a hub for that ... maybe something like a tablet?
Yes, that's right, a tablet. Amazon has shown itself willing to enter into the hardware market with the Kindle, something which, despite not having access to sales numbers, seems to have been a success for Amazon (I'm certainly amazed by how many of them I see when I'm out and about). Kindle, while being both popular and well loved amongst owners, is still very much a one-trick pony. It's a great ebook reader, but that's pretty much all it does. But now that Amazon is having a love-in with Android, a multi-purpose media consumption device makes sense as it would act as a hub for all these digital services. That 5GB of Cloud Drive storage could act as secondary storage/backup for the device (heck, why not give tablet owners more space?) meaning that the device might not need as much storage as, say, and iPad.
Amazon was extremely disruptive to brick-and-mortar retailers when it came to physical goods (especially when it came to books, CDs and DVDs) but as the world shifts from physical goods to digital goods, Amazon doesn't want to be left behind. The Kindle has given Amazon relevance in the ebook market, and a tablet would give the retail giant relevance for other forms of media.
In case you've not figured it out yet, Amazon is aligning itself to go up directly against Apple. In much the same way that Apple has evolved from selling computers to selling digital products, Amazon is evolving from selling physical products to selling digital products.
Amazon is working on an Android tablet. It's coming. It will be disruptive. And it will be a direct threat to Apple continued dominance in digital media.