Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hey, You, Get Into the Cloud

See if you can wrap your head around this one. Because I can’t.

Apple is now offering the iCloud – a web-based service for storing our music, movies, photos, brain cells, whatever – in a way that’ll let us sync that content to up to ten devices, thus ridding the cumbersome and space-hogging method currently used, which is storing all of that stuff on our own hard drives and either having to create clunky playlists or do somersaults to log in as a different user in order to sync more than one iPod on one computer.

Sounds great, yes?

Well, wait until you read the fine print.

It’s free for up to 5 gig of music downloaded via iTunes. In other words, music you buy from the record labels via Apple. I have none of that. No, for schlubs like me who rip their music from CDs (I don’t steal it; get that out of your heads) the service costs $25 a year. Fair enough. Apple can’t exactly give away the storage space for free, you know.

This “iMatch” service also applies to storing illegally-obtained music, providing one volunteers to pay for it via iTunes for the privilege of storing it in the cloud.

This, of course, makes record execs ecstatic. So reports CNN, cobbling from Rolling Stone:
It is one way to make someone pay for music they've already bought. It's pretty ingenious," Syd Schwartz, a former EMI Music executive who is now a consultant to artist managers and record labels, tells Rolling Stone. "I'm sure someone in an executive office at a major label somewhere is going, 'At least that's one way we can monetize the stuff people stole from Napster over the years.'
And that’s fine, too. These people stealing music shouldn’t be allowed to use the service unless they’re willing to pay for what they’ve stolen. So guess what? They won’t use it.

And I won’t use it either. Not because I have any qualms on paying for music, but because I don’t want to pay someone else to store stuff I’ve already paid for when I can store it at home for free. Yes, the syncing remains clunky. But that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make.

We bought a one-gig external hard drive for $89 a few years ago. It’s paying for itself just serving as a spot for us to store our digital photos. I haven’t bothered migrating music or movies over to it, simply because our collections of such aren’t large. Storing them in the cloud may make sense from the point of view of convenience, but not from the point of view of cost. Luckily, I have a Sony MP3 player that’ll sync with whatever computer I choose, so that makes the syncing simple. Only Apple seems to want to make it complicated.

But they’re not the only ones wanting lolly for the privilege. Google offers Google Music, free for a limited time. May check that out. Amazon offers its Cloud Drive, with 5 gig of free storage. We’ll have to see what restrictions apply.

Jared Newman, writing for PCWorld, is dismissive of Amazon’s service, mainly on the pricing, saying that “cloud storage isn’t quite ready to replace a trusty external hard drive.” Obviously I agree with that. I bought a computer with three gigs of internal memory, so storage isn’t all that much of a problem. Neither is lost files, since all of the music I enjoy comes from my physical music collection. Well, I have some freebie stuff and podcasts and the like that I don’t have on physical media, but if it were lost, I probably wouldn’t shed a lot of tears about it.

There are disadvantages to Google and Amazon’s products – no Apple device support, at least as far as I can tell. That seems odd, so I’m probably wrong, but what I’m reading says they’re Android-supporters only.

That leaves mSpot, which has free Android and iPhone apps – presumably, it works for the iPod Touch and iPad as well. But there’s another disadvantage – mSpot only supports one device for free, for up to five devices, ya gotta pay $3.99 a month (so on price, iCloud wins; mSpot comes in at close to twice iCloud’s cost per year). So for scum like me that want the freemium advantages with multiple device syncing, there’s nowhere to go. (See Ginny Mies’ comparison of the four services at PCWorld here.) I suppose you could game mSpot and set up multiple accounts on the free system, but I suspect they’ll have ways to counter such shenanigans. Further investigation is warranted.

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