I’ve been using Amazon’s Music Cloud for a couple of weeks and so far, I’m pretty happy. It works largely as advertised but is clearly a very early version which could use a lot of improvements.

I picked the 50 gig plan for $50. The process was easy and it took about fourteen hours to upload my entire collection (since it’s mostly a one time operation, I really don’t understand why anyone would have a problem with this) Amazon allows me to re-download my own music one album at a time but not download entire artists, much less the entire collection. I can’t say I’m very surprised since it’s always been notoriously difficult to get Amazon to allow me to re-download the MP3′s I buy from them (I basically had to file tickets, and even then, it was a struggle). Amazon obviously doesn’t want to be seen as a music back up service.

The music player itself is probably as minimalistic as you can get. You can display your music by songs, albums, artists and genres. Playback can shuffle and repeat and Amazon did a decent job at finding the album covers for most of my collection.

Here is a list of the (minor) annoyances I have found so far:

  • Periodic sign off. For some irritating reason, Amazon forces me to sign in again once a day or so (I didn’t time it precisely). It’s not the end of the world but annoying.
  • No keyboard shortcuts. There were several times where I needed to do some repeated operations on my collection (such as deleting duplicates) and having to use the mouse for it was painful. I would love to get Gmail shortcuts to manipulate my collection.
  • Bad single song visualizer. The box showing the current song and album is poorly laid out, with small fonts and chopped up words, and since there is no way to change its lay out or alter column widths (same problem with the collection view), it’s as bad as Windows Media Player.

Be aware that Amazon uses MP3 tags exclusively to recognize your collection. I know it sounds obvious, but it took me a while to understand why moving folders around on my local hard drive and then re-uploading the songs produced no changes. The upside is that I finally got a good incentive to do some MP3 tag clean up in my collection. Once I fixed this, my music library on Amazon looked much better.

I would really have liked this initial version to contain a de-duplicator. Looking at my collection once it was uploaded made it clear that a lot of the songs were there in duplicates (and sometimes more, especially if you do several uploads of the same album with slightly different tags).

Overall, it’s pretty clear to me that what Amazon really needs is an API for their Music Cloud. And fast.

We will soon have three big players in this market (Amazon and Google today, Apple soon) and the distinction will certainly not be on what the web page looks like or what the player can do. Instead, users will most likely look at the surrounding ecosystem, which includes both what the company offers (Amazon and Apple sell music, so they have an advantage over Google in terms of easy integration) and also what third party developers will be able to build on top of the platform.

A lot of of gripes I listed above would most likely be solved in a matter of days by the community if a Music API were available. This would also open the door to having native clients which would completely remove the dependency on having a web browser open to play your music. Obviously, I can imagine that the RIAA will do its best to kill or at least slow down the advent of such API’s, but since Amazon and Google have already shown they were not afraid to proceed without their agreement, I’m still hopeful it will happen soon.