Cross Platform Music Lockers

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I am in the market to start looking for an alternative to iTunes Match as a cloud music locker.   I wanted to share my little adventure with others.

What is a cloud locker?

A cloud locker is generally a place you can sync your existing/owned music/data library to in the cloud. Essentially duplicating what you have locally up in a third party. A proper cloud locker should be agnostic to the source of the media, and provide an easy way to access and in some cases share your data. 

For a music locker, there are other features like playlists, mobile device sync, offline file sync, media matching, etc… that are key features to consider.

I currently use iTunes Match for this functionality and really like it.  I can buy music on any service and have it matched/uploaded to iTunes match and instantly have it available to any PC or iOS mobile device.

What I like about iTunes and Match:

  • Cheap – $25/year.
  • Genius Playlists – They work, and are easy ways to group like music together.  I use these lists quite a bit.
  • Management of Match/iCloud music is easily visible and easy to work with.
  • Adding music to the library is very easy.
  • Easily accessible music from my iOS and desktop devices everywhere.

Stuff I don’t like:

  • Platform lock-in.  I am not a big Apple fanboi, and truly hate OSX, and think iOS is rapidly aging in a very competitive market.
  • If you delete a song/artist from your iDevice that is using Match, it deletes the music off of the iCloud and the device… removing it from the other devices. 
  • The Music app on the iPhone sucks and once you turn on iCloud/iTunes Match it crawls to a stop and eats battery.
  • No ability to locally sync music to devices if you use iTunes match as well.
  • The initial iTunes Match sync took over 10 hours to finish last year.

Why look for an alternative?

The goal is to dump my Apple mobile devices in the coming months (Windows Phone 8 based phone, and ARM and x64 based Windows 8 Tablets), I need something to replace my current addiction to iTunes. My wife uses an Android based phone as well, and I would still like to be able to use my iOS devices as media players when needed.  So I need something cross-platform.

The options:

Xbox Music (‘metro’ Windows 8 Music app) – Well this is billed by MS as its perfect solution to iTunes.  This is supposed to be a full matching music locker, with the Microsoft version of “Genius” with its Smart DJ playlist generator.

It is supposed to support multiple platforms (iOS, Windows Phone, Windows Desktop/RT, Android, Xbox, etc…), but currently is only Windows Phone/Desktop OS based.  iOS and Android apps are coming.

On the surface the Xbox music sounds just like what the dr ordered.  Cross platform, cloud sync music locker, and a large preexisting music library to match against (25Mil songs+, second only to iTunes).

Microsoft made this image which is great info about the competition, but as you will read below, MS was a bit generous on the marks it gave itself…

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Rdio Love the concept, execution and interface.  But while you can prepopulate it with your library, it will not let you upload songs you buy that they don’t have in their library.   This results in it not being a music locker.   It is a great, yet expensive cross platform music service though! $9/mo for their “premium” service that supports mobiles.

Spotify Very similar to the above, only with a better library.  I do love the social features of this service, and the mobile sync stuff it can do, but it also is not a cloud music locker.  I really like this service, but it is just missing a few things for me.

Google Play/Drive They don’t play well with windows mobile devices, or iOS so… yeh…  But it does sound like a great service for android devices.

Samsung Music Hub Has all the features I want, but only works with one phone… so not for me.

Amazon Cloud Player – This is Amazons true entry into the Music locker biz.  This is a subset of the amazon Cloud Drive product, but is licensed very differently. The Cloud Player which is priced at 24.99$/yr for up to 250,000 songs is appealing. This is a page out of the iTunes book on ways to license this service.  There is no size charge.

Amazon has a OS agnostic web app that works on most full desktop and browsers, and even works OK on mobile browsers.  With that said they also have iOS, and Android apps that are much more functional.  There is a Windows Phone app on the way, but it is not out yet.

There is a locally installed app you place on a PC to sync the files from your library up to Amazon.  Amazon will match against songs you’ve already purchased through them, and their existing library of 20 Million songs.

The Testing:

Xbox Music – FAIL – You access this with the Windows 8 “Music” app in the “Metro” interface (currently).   Overall this app is awful beta code.  There is no management of how/what is syncing to the cloud.  It doesn’t see my entire library consistently by reporting randomly library sizes from 10,000 – 16,000 – 30,000 songs (I have 21,000 songs…).  The library will change the song count up and down every 1 – 5 minutes as it seems to be fighting to count the music.  I’ve had an album go away while I was playing it…  

The “Cloud Match” portion of the system is the music locker.   It (without me doing anything) sync’d up 9000 songs.  Then stopped.  No error, no warning, no explanation.  No way to find out what’s going on.  Every time I open the app it syncs another couple songs and that’s it.

Microsoft’s licensing is very confusing as well (shocker!).  There is a music pass, but from what I can see you don’t need that to do the music locker feature.  Or maybe you do.  It’s $9/mo and will handle sync of music to mobile devices… I think.  

Besides for the claims of awesome cross platform support (Xbox console, Desktop, Mobile, Tablet Windows 8, iOS apps, Android apps, etc…)  None of this is actually there yet.   I have been called a Microsoft Fanboi in the past, and even though I do like the Windows 8 platform, and like lots of what MS has been doing recently.   But this is a terrible app and the people responsible for it should be fired on the spot. 

In 12 – 24 months this may be a great option, but its far too broken/incomplete right now.

Rdio / Spotify – Not what I need – These programs are very similar, and both are excellent.   But neither is a true music storage locker.   I liked them both for their UI, but they just aren’t what I wanted/need.

I did get Rdio a try to see what in my library it would sync, and it found 13,000 of my 21,000 songs and made them instantly available on their service.  Not bad, but I want more ability to upload songs they may not have.

Amazon Cloud Player – TBD – This is a true music locker, from one of the bigger names in music sales today (20Mil vs MS 25Mil, and Apple 28Mil). 

I am still in the process of testing out this service, but here is what I am seeing so far:

  • To match/sync 21,000 songs is a long process.  I am 33% done and its been going for 4 hours so far (and hammering an 8MB/up internet connection at 100% use).

Assault on my internet connection:

image

The upload app:

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  • There is no desktop music app, its all web based.  There are native apps for the iOS devices, Kindle Fire, Android phones.  There is a Windows Phone app coming out “soon” according to Amazon.
  • The web based music player can work with many mobile instances and mobile browsers if needed, but its sort of a kludge.

The Web app (mid upload):

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  • The web music player is very basic, and aged.  No advanced playlist/smart playlist/matching playlist functionality like most other systems have.
  • the iOS app is nice, it rivals functionality of the iTunes Music app with easy download/offline sync.  Runs much faster than the iOS music app as well.
  • Unsure about any kind of playlist import so far.  More testing needed.
  • No third party app to play from a desktop without using a web browser.
  • No clear understanding at the time of sync/upload as to what is going on, what is matching and what is uploading.

I have much more testing to do with Amazon, and none of the issues I have seen so far are so bad I wont use the service.  Room for improvement is a good thing, I just hope they actually improve. 

Conclusion for now: 

As much as I bash iTunes… they do have a pretty damn good thing going.  But Amazon could easily with some simple tweaks make their system more versatile, and functional than iTunes Match.

I will update as I use this service and others in the search of my perfect escape from Apples iron grip.

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