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Amazon reach for the clouds

While all the talk about cloud music in the past year or so has been centred on when Apple would launch their service, it is Amazon, the leading online retailer, who has made the first move into the cloud last week with the announcement of their Cloud Drive and Cloud Player.

I'm sure a few of you are wondering what kind of hippy dippy nonsense I'm on about. Cloud music? It all sounds suspiciously like an ill-advised experimental ambient concept album, but fear not, this is THE FUTURE (probably). The cloud concept in computing is one that is becoming much more ubiquitous (ironically, after the last big computing system concept was called 'ubiquitous computing').

Cloud computing allows you to harness the power and resources of multiple computers rather than rely on one computer or server to host your website, email or files. So, as we all become increasingly more connected, the theory is that everything we own on our hard drives could exist on the virtual cloud, so we could access it anywhere we needed it and our data would persist across our digital life.

Amazon have actually been at the forefront of 'the cloud' since they launched Amazon Web Services in 2006, which included online backup systems. And the Cloud Drive is a logical extension of that. The service offers 5GB of starter space (20GB if you purchase an album), to which Amazon account holders can upload their documents, photos and music collection.

That library or 'digital locker' can then be accessed everywhere via an Android mobile, laptop or desktop and, voila, your music will be with you everywhere via the sleek-looking Cloud Player app. The only catch is that it's a US-only operation at the moment.

Amazon are not the first company to launch a cloud entertainment service. MSpot and Mp3Tunes have been offering similar solutions for a couple of years now but Amazon are certainly the biggest. Apple will inevitably launch a cloud service at some point in the future, while Google is said to be currently testing a similar music service among employees in the company.

You might be wondering how Amazon managed to get the blessing of the music industry to allow their users to upload their files? They didn't. In a bold move, Cloud Player is currently unlicenced by the industry. Amazon has said that uploading an MP3 file to the cloud is the same as putting it on an external hard drive, but, after Sony Music expressed disappointment with Amazon that they didn't even ask, it seems likely that behind the scenes there is some negotiation going on. Record labels, artists, publishers, Google and Apple will surely be interested in any outcome.

However, Cloud Player points to a greater trend in digital music -- that of solving the customer problem first and worrying about the music industry afterwards. As Amazon's Director of Music told Billboard: "We're trying to solve a customer pain point that affects how much people buy digital music. We're trying to make purchased music more valuable. And we think that's good for everybody."

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