Thursday, 31 March 2011

How Amazon has outsmarted the music industry (and Apple) | ZDNet

This article got me thinking.

I first bought Amazon music when I got my Android phone. I was in London, in a cafe and saw an advert in a magazine for the new Gorillaz album. In a brainwave, I browsed my new phone to the Amazon MP3 app, signed in with my Amazon credentials, searched and found the album, and purchased & downloaded it right there. I left the cafe listening to my freshly downloaded album. No PC or mac (or shop!) required. A few months later that phone died - the screen smashed. I took out the SD card, slotted it into a new Android phone right there in the phone shop and walked out listening to that same album. Try doing that with an iPhone (you need a PC/mac to register and sync your iWhatever).

So, on Monday, I was talking to one of our enterprise software suppliers about trialling the newest version of the software. Did they have a virtual machine I could add to our test server and run it? The trouble was getting it to me: I'm in Barbados and they are UK-based. It's probably a 20GB file - take a long time and probably fail. Easier if I create an Amazon Web Services account and they then hook me into a Machine Image (AMI) on there. Setting this up proved to be a fifteen minute job. And I realised what Amazon web services has become. It is no longer the purview of the data centre techies who want big servers 'in the cloud', and so are willing to spend the hours figuring out virtualisation and clustering and stuff. Sure, all that stuff is there for them, but it is also viable and accessible to the individual, whether it's just backing up your files, running your own online desktop (yes, Windows Remote Desktop!), or running your own website without all the usual shared hosting restrictions.

Finally, yesterday I saw the original announcement of Amazon's Cloud disk and thought 'just another dropbox/sugarsync online disk thingy'. I went and claimed my free 5GB anyway and noticed that your Amazon-purchased music and kindle books aren't included in the storage quota, which I thought was quite nice. Oh, and it has a music player to play your stuff through your browser, which I ho-hummed at.

Now this article has got me thinking. Amazon as Apple's main competitor? Yes, I see it. Amazon started at the warehouse end, flogging products online and then extending that to marketplaces and finally to the infrastructure itself, which it is now in the process of personalising. All that media you buy from us? Keep it with us, and consume it when/where you need it, either on our device or someone else's. Apple, on the other hand, produced a cool little music player with an online catalogue, and extended that to a multimedia player for podcasts, movies, books and, with increasingly more sensors, apps. All these wonderful toys, just for our devices... via our store.

They have met in the virtual middle. On the one hand you have cool devices, and on the other hand you have powerful, flexible online storage. How long can Apple keep its cool?

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