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Cloud Music Players, are they all that?

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#1
Zarch1972

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I think there is no doubt that the future location of all our entertainment files will be “The Cloud”, but I think its a little presumptuous of Google and Amazon to suggest that the future is right now.

For starters, some people still struggle to get 2mb or 3mb broadband at home which could hamper the initial upload, let alone get a decent and reliable 3G signal on their phones for streaming. LTE could solve some of the latter problems, but you still have the shackles of prohibitively low monthly data limits to worry about over your mobile network.

Okay, I'll dive straight in, I think both Google Music and Amazon Cloud Player currently fall way short. In fact, i'd go as far as saying that both their failings are stopping me nailing my colours to either mast at the moment.

Its hard not to cast envious eyes over to Apple and their complete end-to-end solution of iTunes, iOS and ITunes Match. No matter what you might think about Apple, they have got their content delivery system absolutely nailed in my opinion. From locally stored files to cloud versions to syncing between iTunes, just one, or all your devices is just stunning. The beauty of a closed shop perhaps?

Having not committed to either, I have only briefly dabbled with Google Music (GM) and Amazon Cloud Player (ACP), but I haven’t been impressed thus far.

GM was announced in the US almost a year ago, but still hasn't hit the UK or anywhere else yet. Yes, we can frig it using Weekend Project: Try Google Music cloud streaming outside the US, but come on Google, sort it out.

There is currently no “match” option in GM, so you have to upload each and every megabyte of each and every track. All the track bit rates are as uploaded, so if you upload poor 128kps poor rips, that’s how they stay online. But at least you can upload 20,000 tracks for free.

ACP does has a match option and allows you to test the service out with 250 uploads for free, whereas for £21.99 a year you get up to 250,000 songs imported/matched/stored. Also, once uploaded and matched you can download your tracks back at 256kps even if you only uploaded a 128kps version. :)

One of my biggest bugbears though about this push towards the cloud is that Google and Amazon seem to have forgotten that many of us still have thousands of songs on our hard drives and that we still want to "actively manage” that local collection.

Its quite telling to me that both GM and ACP importer programs instantly look to iTunes for your music and playlists. (a doth of the cap?) But once your upload is complete, that's it, they assume your music is in the cloud and any local management/syncing is over.

Even though i'm an Android user I still use iTunes on my PC to manage my modest mp3 collection (6,200 tracks, 37gb). I then use DoubleTwist to get playlists and a subset of my songs over to my phone locally.

But within iTunes I have a number of Smart Playlists that are vital to me. For example, I have my own “Top Rated” smart playlist where any track over rated with 2+ stars gets auto added. Its not a massive list, its around 750 tracks at around 4.3gb but if i’m not in the mood for an album I stick this smart playlist onto random play and i'm sorted. But this smartlist grows and changes all the time as I make changes to song ratings.

ACP has no “song rating” marker whatsoever and it also lacks any sort of auto/smart playlist. So you have no option but to manually go through and make basic playlists from scratch. I wasn't able to test if I could do something with my iTunes playlists because ACP importer does not find your iTunes data if its not stored in the default location on the PC, mine is stored over on my NAS. Solutions online suggest making symbolic links etc, but come on Amazon, basics!!

GM has at least got this simple thumbs up/down feature and has now added a “Thumbs Up” playlist into “Auto Playlists”, so you can create a simple “rated” auto/smart playlist using this.

Unfortunately upon import into GM any iTunes ratings are lost/not transferred. Although you can con it by importing your faves as a basic iTunes playlist then batch highlighting those songs in GM and applying a mass thumbs up.

But once your music is up there (to either GM or ACP), thats it, you are expected to forget about your local collection and solely manage your ratings/playlists online. And to be honest, I don't think i'm ready to give up my local collection just yet. Are you?

I know I lauded praise on Apple earlier, but you don't get all of this faffing with iOS. You change the rating of a song on any device and it just updates everywhere, even locally, the beauty of having iTunes in the equation. Yes, I am a big fan as you can probably tell. Jealous? Of course.

Maybe i'm being a little harsh on both Android services as its difficult to live up to the Apple solution. But it does beg the question, do Google or Amazon need an iTunes equivalent to give a complete end-to-end solution?

From my initial Cloud Player findings, i’m surprised to say that even despite the lack of a UK presence and no match service its Google Music that appeals to me most at this stage. Amazon Cloud Player’s lack of song ratings and no auto-playlists just kills my interest at the moment as it's two features that are just too important to me. No matter how tempting the Amazon 256kps Match functionality is.

On reflection I suppose both Android services are in their infancy compared to Apple and should get better over time. But how quickly and up to what standard is anyone’s guess.

Maybe i'll upload my 6000+ tracks to Google Music and see how I get on, its free after all. But I really don't like the idea of abandoning my local collection and its organisation.

Is it only me who wants to keep their local collection going? Or am I being a little too old skool? Could a third party app come to our rescue? Doubletwist perhaps? But it would be another step in an already convoluted process.

And i've not even talked about the players/clients in all this. :)
  • We'd love to hear your Cloud Music Player thoughts, tips and tricks?
  • How would you improve Google Music or Amazon Cloud Player?
  • What gripes do you have about the services?
  • How do you intend coping with or without a local collection once you've uploaded?

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#2
rferrett

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It is the connectivity thing that kills it for me.

There are perhaps some places where data limit free super fast 3g or 4G mobile signal is ubiquitous and affordable but it isn't the West Country of England that is for sure.

As long as I regularly have to travel between cities by train, plane or automobile (and that is frankly for the foreseeable) then the cloud ain't gonna be an option for me.

I like Google music but it needs to develop helluva lot.

I think you may well be onto something in respect of the iTunes for Android thing. Wonder though if carrier/manufacturer customisation makes it a non starter?

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#3
3shirts

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I totally agree about synchronisation. I use Google Music and on the whole I like it a lot but I want to be able to manage my local music and have those changes reflected online.
The android app for playback is very good and the web player is also decent but it annoys me that the ratings and playlists I've applied at home via mediamonkey are not reflected and if I decide to delete a song on the cloud, it is still on my computer at home.

By the way. The phrase is 'DOFF of the cap', not doth. It means 'do off' just like 'don my new shoes' means 'do on'.

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#4
Zarch1972

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By the way. The phrase is 'DOFF of the cap', not doth. It means 'do off' just like 'don my new shoes' means 'do on'.

Knuckles suitably wrapped ;)

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#5
leftyorrighty

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I like ACP for the convenience of having the music around whenever I want it, but yes, it's way short of a complete solution. For £22 it's pretty good.
Ultimately it's the mobile networks that need to get themselves sorted out before cloud can really take off.

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#6
rferrett

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Another point for me at least is battery use. Biggest problem I have with smart phones is running out of juice

Bottom line is 3g and presumably LTE radios in constant use rinse your battery much more than playing media off local storage.

I really do have an issue with regular streaming on Spotify or Google music because of this.

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#7
achim w.

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Thank you for this article - it could have been me writing this!

Even if I'm still in the process of uploading my mp3 collection to GM (a bit over 8000 pieces) and I didn't come to the point of trying out the part of playing them. I don't think I will abandon my collection on my harddrive (not with all my ratings and categorizations on the stake).

Right now it's a nice to have on my way around (as long as I have a decent connection to the internet - which is not a given thing) without having to carry my desktop PC around with me :)

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#8
3shirts

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I actually would abandon my local music collection IF:
There were better dynamic playlists
I could rate racks with more granularity (5 stars)
I could re-download any track, any time and unlimited times.

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#9
Zarch1972

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I could rate racks with more granularity (5 stars)

You can add that through Google Music Labs. ;)

http://googlesystem....music-labs.html

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#10
jamoiholland

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Could not agree more. Have sent my iTunes-managed 11,500 tracks (97GB) to GM, but can't ditch iTunes because I can't replace the auto playlist feature, as my auto playlists are based on all the 5 star levels, and simple thumbs up and thumbs down doesn't cut it for me. I dislike needing a permanent connection, but can get over that by having some of the playlists/albums/etc "made available offline" in the Android client, that's fine. If GM has been around over a year (wow, didn't realise that) then I can't help but feel it should have matured and progressed more by now...

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#11
Zarch1972

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Picture the scene:

Average Joe has his music in iTunes, but is considering buying a Nexus 7 tablet.

Asks his techy friend how would he get his music over to a Nexus 7 from iTunes.

Techy: "You can't"
Joe: "oh"
Techy: "Well you can, but theres a few steps"
Joe: "ok, what are they"
Techy: "You could just drag and drop the files from the folders"
Joe: "Sounds messy, what about my playlists"
Techy: "You'd need to use another program, something like Doubletwist"
Joe: "Right, so I plug my N7 into the PC then use Doubletwist to move the files and playlists from iTunes?"
Techy: "Not quite"
Joe: "Why?"
Techy: "The Nexus 7 uses MTP so Doubletwist doesn't recognise it, only USB devices. You'll have to buy Airsync ($4.99) and sync over Wi-Fi"
Joe: "MTP, What's that? This is crazy, isn't there an Android version of iTunes that does all this?"
Techy: "No"
Joe: "So how does this Google Music work, that's simple right?"
Techy: "Well unless you hack it, its not available in the UK"
Joe: "Hack what?"
Techy: "You need to con Google into thinking you live in the USA by faking an IP address"
Joe: "But once i've done that I can easily get my music and playlists over and everything will just sync's fine?"
Techy: "Not really, there's a few steps you have to take and things won't sync back to your PC"
Joe: "Sod this, i'm off to the Apple store for an iPad". :)

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#12
PaulOBrien

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Exactly. :)

P

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#13
unrandomsam

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itunes is an awful program. (Reimpliments too much functionalilty instead of using native).

The Zune software is tons better.
(Dunno why Microsoft didn't replace Windows Media Player with it).

The reason mtp is junk is because Linux/Android has not implemented it properly.

They should also provide proper native mac support I suppose.

(Windows supports MTP just fine.)

Itunes isn't even a good piece of software on a mac.
(You would have to be crazy to use it if you didn't have Apple hardware).

Have a look at what it does to your network just installing it. (Starting with everything enabled by default).

Whereas even Windows Media Player starts with everything disabled but has the options for stuff like streaming to an xbox 360 etc.

Amazon streaming is rock solid its all I need. (Even better you can get reasonably well encoded files back when all your collection is in flac's). And you don't have to worry about making sure they are encoded decently.

If you want itunes use a Mac
If you want WP stuff use Windows

Should be use Android if you use Linux but that isn't the case at all. (Amarok 1.4 was the best Music player I have used on any platform - the newer UI sucks though).

Skifka or just a Spotify Premium subscription I would probably give them as options.

None technical people should use Boom

http://perkele.cc/software/boom

Maybe with Cloud Drive if they want it.

flac's because you cannot encode them badly. (Being lossless). From CD's

It is not difficult to teach someone to rip a cd it is no more complicated than putting a dvd into a dvd player with the right software.

One program that does one thing well is still the best way to go about things.

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#14
Zarch1972

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itunes is an awful program. (Reimpliments too much functionalilty instead of using native).


unrandomsam, thanks for the comments, but I somewhat disagree.

Average Joe (not us) just wants one program that comes with their phone, they install and it syncs music to their device and to their cloud solution (and back again). I doubt 99% of people who install iTunes care what its doing under the hood, to them it just works. And to fair, it does everything I want it to do to organise my music collection.

I used MediaMonkey for quite sometime before, but went back to iTunes and honestly I don't notice much difference. I went back to iTunes because more 3rd party apps hook into it (DoubleTwist and even Google Music and Amazon Cloud Player uploaders)

I take too many calls from friends/family asking me about syncing on Android...... "does iTunes work?" etc and as such I can't believe that more people aren't raising the point that there is no Android/Google PC/Mac client to do for them what iTunes does for iPhone/iPad/iPod owners.

To me, its a massive black hole in the Android end-to-end solution/ecosystem and I really hope Google are looking to address this.

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#15
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It's not a [complete] solution to one of the issues, but I use an Android App called iSyncr which does the job of getting what I want to hear on to my phone with reasonable ease. Anyone else tried it?

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#16
rferrett

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You know I was really starting to like Google Music.

Then I discover there is no way to save your offline files to the external Sd card. Google's stupid war on removable storage is so bloody annoying.

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#17
rferrett

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And it turns out that you cannot even use directory bind as Google have moved the cache to the data/data partition

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#18
Zarch1972

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I was hoping for some sort of Google Music announcement at today's event. Hopefully whenever its rescheduled for there's some GM love and bit of a revamp of the whole operation.

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