Early thoughts on Amazon’s Cloud Drive

This week Amazon unveiled Cloud Drive, an online storage system for Amazon users to upload their music collections for both on demand streaming and backup. It’s unquestionably huge tech news; Amazon is the first company of this size and stature to provide a cloud based service on this large of a scale. Intrigued, I’ve spent the last two days putting the service through its paces and in the process have come to several conclusions:

Mainstream users will rush to embrace cloud-based services (albeit slowly at first)

While it’s true that the tech community has heavily utilized cloud-based file services like Dropbox and Crashplan for years, Amazon’s Cloud Service is really the first to nail it for a mainstream audience: Unlike most other cloud solutions, there’s no additional drives to be mounted or cumbersome software to download. Instead, Amazon requires just a small Adobe Air app used to upload music (in a nice touch, Amazon auto scans your HD), the music player itself just a web site. Given that level of simplicity, Amazon’s solid customer service, not to mention 5GB free for anyone that has an Amazon account, a lot of households will jump onboard.

Expect this to be the first major step for mainstream users to incorporate cloud-based computing into their day. Music is a great starting point: millions already use web-based streaming clients like Pandora and Rdio so jumping over to an Amazon website to listen to their music library is a natural progression. I’d predict that competitors like Dropbox and Apple will make great efforts to make their services more enticing for a non tech audience (simpler UI, more competitive pricing plans, more devices) and in the process their respective user bases should grow exponentially.

This all takes time; it’s a big step from uploading songs from one’s music library to enterprise sharing and larger scale backup plans. Nevertheless, as the other heavyweights like Apple, Sony and others join in (post Amazon’s move, it’s inevitable), demand will spike.

A transition from ownership to rentals and streaming

As people become comfortable with Amazon’s cloud service we should see more users jump to other streaming on demand music from Rdio, Rhapsody and others. We’re seeing streaming media’s growth in other industries already, from Apple’s TV rental services to Netflix’s popular streaming-only plan.

20GB free for one album is smart

Amazon’s promotion of a free one year, 20GB plan with the purchase of any Amazon mp3 album is a great idea. First, it’s an easy way to entice users who normally download their music elsewhere (read: iTunes or torrents) into trying out Amazon at least once. I’d also anticipate 20GB being a large enough size for most users to back up their entire core music library (5GB doesn’t cut it; there’s a reason Apple’s non-shuffle iPods don’t dip below 8GB) making the service all the more useful. Once users are use to the higher storage size I doubt they’d go back, ensuring more revenue in Amazon’s pocket for the long term.

Decent sound quality

I tend to be picky about sound quality; I use fairly high end headphones (Sennheiser HD25s) and rarely listen to anything less than high quality (320kbps) mp3s on my iPhone. Nevertheless, after my Amazon Cloud Player played through a few uploaded albums I was fairly satisfied with what I heard. Based on my browser activity it appears the Amazon player streams the original song, regardless of the size and quality of the uploaded encoding. Artifacts and hiss are also kept to reasonably small levels. My only main quibble is some music can sound a bit flat with the lack of an equalizer control found on iOS, iTunes, and many other devices. For now my primary music will stay local but Amazon’s Cloud Drive could be great for less frequented older music that can’t fit within the 32GB confines of my iPhone.