A couple of weeks ago, we posted An Android music adventure, volume I, in which we ditched iTunes in favour of MediaMonkey, and went in search of a brave new world in which devices synchronize with little interference beyond the initial setup.
In this week’s episode, we search for the most likely default …
In search of the Big Cloud
Having decided already that our answer almost certainly lies in that recent buzzword, cloud computing, our first task is to identify the appropriate default cloud configuration for us. While there are certainly hundreds of enterprises out there of various sizes, all trying to ride the cloud computing wave, we decided to start by looking at three options: Amazon, Apple and Google.
Why these three?
The decision to limit our initial investigation in this way was a rather simple one — these are three companies that are big. None of them will just disappear tomorrow, and all seem likely to offer some sort of solution. The solution found here might not be our ultimate solution, but it will hopefully provide an interim solution and a fallback point if things go wrong elsewhere.
Amazon is a huge online retailer, with hugely successful MP3 and Android App stores. On top of this, they’re a big player in the cloud space, providing hosting services for a large number of extremely popular websites. My Kindle experience has been positive, with a pretty slick book-delivery system.
And Amazon launched their “Cloud Player” some months ago to much fanfare.
In short, Amazon looks like a solid bet to have a solution.
Apple announced their iCloud service recently. And while we fear that it might require iTunes (a non-starter) or an i-Device (rather than an Android), Apple also has a couple of things going for it. As the proprietors of the world’s biggest online music store, they are in as good a position as anybody to work something out with music publishers.
And for all their faults, Apple has a history of redefining markets they enter. They did not make the first, or (arguably) the best, PC, MP3 player, smart phone or tablet. But they completely changed the landscape for each of these. Apple could well have done something that (once again) has left their competitors scrambling to catch up.
Google has had betas other than Google+ running in recent months. One of these is Google Music. Google are the craftspeople behind my phone, and I am quite impressed with their operating system, and the easy cloud synchronization of my contacts and photos.
Step one: Google
My first stop, I decided, would be Google.
That stop looked like this:
Which is a shame, because the service itself sounded alright — sure, it’s a streaming service (rather than an outright synchronization), but at least it streams your own music collection (rather than random songs Google has decided you might like). And it caches playlists to your phone, reputedly, allowing for them to be played when your connection fails.
Are those playlists “smart”? How is metadata synchronized?
Well, these are questions we cannot answer, because we could not test the service. Alas.
Step two: Amazon
With Google unavailable, our sights are turned to Apple and Amazon.
Our well-documented dislike of the former combines with a strong desire to never download iTunes again to make us jump towards Amazon as our next-best-bet. Amazon is a service on which we can pin high hopes. Their service is not in Beta, and they have an associated MP3 store.
If Google ticks some boxes and isn’t even available, surely Amazon will be better!
Amazon does not do smart playlists — their create and manage playlists instructions clearly do not mention managing playlists in any way other than manually. And all mention of actually downloading music to a device (rather than streaming) is by song, meaning that even if smart playlists could be maintained, they could not be synchronized.
And here at the Big Bad Blog, we tend to organize our music via smart playlists.
But more importantly, Amazon (like Google) is available only to customers in the United States, leaving us here in Britain out in the cold again. They also only support a couple of music formats, although with the two formats being MP3 and M4A, they do reflect the majority of my current music collection.
Finally, music cannot be uploaded from a phone — that Amazon-bought MP3s are automatically on their cloud drive does provide a bit of a workaround there, but it’s still pretty poor. I want music delivery to be independent of the purchasing mechanism.
In the end, Amazon doesn’t seem to be able to tick any of my boxes. As they say, it’s a cloud player, rather than a cloud service. Amazon streams and sells, they don’t sync.
Oh, and they won’t even stream to me.
Step three: Apple
With the two best options of “fallback option” off the table, we turned to the evil empire.
Check #1: Will iCloud work on an Android phone? No.
Check #2: Will iCloud work with music for customers outside the United States? No.
We did not bother to look at the remaining features of the service. By this point we had a headache.
Our initial investigations have left us without a synchronization mechanism.
Indeed, it seems that jurisdictional legal issues – to whit, the music industry being firmly set in the 1990s, and insisting on geography-dependent distribution over geography-independent distribution systems. In the end, all I want is music on my computer synchronized with music on my phone.
This seems perfectly reasonable, and is doubtlessly legal. However, the recording industry’s zeal in pushing for unintuitive copy protection laws and tendency to sue their customers (or those offering services to their customers) for daring to find alternative distribution technologies clearly has even those corporations with a similarly large stable of lawyers acting cautiously.
Here at the Big Bad Blog, we suspect that any solution we find will be expensive — due either to having to pay the record companies (but probably not the musicians) big bucks to avoid lawsuits, or having to pay lawyers to fight those lawsuits.
What a pity.
Next week, we attempt to circumvent the local nature of global services with a DIY solution …