Now then. With the launch of Google Music, the gloves are well and truly off in the consumer cloud space. Not so very long ago, downloads and sideloads were the name of the game. The game (or the legal, non-pirated side of it) was also, let us not forget, pretty much the preserve of Apple’s iTunes, which was very much the Daddy: whether you had a device that ran iOS or a good old-fashioned desktop, you signed up at the iTunes store, entered your credit card details and were away (at least, until your card expired). But times, as Mr Dylan wrote, they are a-changin’. Post the success of Facebook in driving the consumer cloud model, the big hitters – Amazon, Apple and Google –sought to leverage their core assets (such as Google’s huge server farms and Amazon’s developer-centric AWS) by delivering services with mass market appeal. All three decided on the same arena: music. Understandably so. Because streamed music services have become increasingly popular: by the end of 2010, Grooveshark had more than 25 million registered numbers, a number which had risen to 35 million by May 2011; these users were streaming more than 100 million tracks per month. Similarly impressive figures were being reported by last.fm (35 million users as of mid-2011), Pandora (31.2 million active users by mid-2011) and Slacker (26 million users as of mid-2011). Some of these services were essentially streamed radio; others (most notably Grooveshark) conformed more to what one might term a “full cloud” model as regards the uploading and storing of content as well as accessing music-on-demand. With the music industry keen to explore new means of monetising content given the decline in overall recorded music revenues (the IFPI estimates that the global value of the recorded music industry fell by 31% in real terms between 2004 and 2010), and – crucially – with music being a sector of digital content that at least some consumers were prepared to pay for, it seemed to be an optimal sector within which cloud-based services could and should operate. Amazon was first into the ring in March with its Cloud Drive and Cloud Player: these services allow consumers to securely store music in the cloud (on Amazon S3) and play it on any Android phone, Android tablet, Mac or PC. Customers can upload their existing music library to the Amazon Cloud Drive and also save any Amazon MP3 purchases to the drive free of charge. Next up, Apple’s iCloud
: launched last month, the service automatically stores content in the cloud and pushes it to all a user’s devices. Thus, when content changes on device (a), it changes on device (b). (Although, in the case of Apple, that should really be device (i-). You see what I did there? Eh?). The attendant iTunes in the Cloud also allows automatically pushes new purchases to devices, while iTunes Match helpfully scans your music library and pulls any unmatched tracks into the cloud. While all this was going on, Google was quietly beta testing its cloud-based storage/player Google Music on US users: however, what was missing from the picture was the ability to purchase new content; a Google-branded storefront. No longer. (Or at least, no longer if you’re in the US.) As Google Music exited beta, its parent company announced that it now had an associated storefront, offering more than 13 million tracks from three of the four major labels (Warner being conspicuous by their absence), more than 1,000 independent labels and exclusive content from the Rolling Stones and Coldplay. Thus we have – in the US at least – a two-pronged offensive against the Apple music behemoth. Quite how successful its rivals will become in this space is difficult to say, although as (a) many consumers will already have a billing relationship with Amazon (and believe me, come Christmas so will a good many more: memo to self, start buying wife/children presents ASAP) and (b) more and more of them will be accessing content on Kindles and Kindle Fires, then Amazon would appear to be fairly well-positioned in this regard. Likewise, Google, with the Google Wallet and the myriad Android devices that are now in the market. Hence, the pressure is on Apple to defend its corner: its digital music share will undoubtedly be diminished as the rival services mature; the extent to which such erosion occurs will be dependent upon how Apple responds; whether it can convince its audience, and prospective audience, that it still offers the premier service in the marketplace.