Comparing The Big Three Cloud Music Services

After Apple’s iCloud and iTunes Match announcements, we now have three major cloud music service providers, with Apple joining Amazon and Google. There are also many other providers like mSpot, not to mention streaming services like Pandora and Slacker Radio, but this week Apple, Amazon, and Google are getting all the press about their services, so what are the differences between those three?

PC Magazine has an article about the differences between Apple, Amazon, and Google’s cloud music services, which includes a table that does a nice job of summarizing the differences, so I’ll just highlight the ones I think are most important. Right off the bat one big difference is that you cannot play music stored in Apple’s services within a web browser, like you can with Amazon and Google. To play your music stored with Apple you will either need iTunes on a Mac or Windows PC or an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, which means you cannot play music stored with Apple using any computer that has an Internet connection as you can with Amazon and Google.

Closely related to Apple’s iTunes/iOS requirement is that Apple doesn’t stream music to either the devices or PCs, instead music must be fully downloaded before playing, which means you may have to wait longer before hearing a song play and you may encounter storage limitations. Amazon and Google cache a small portion of a song before it starts playing, and both provide an option to download songs or albums to a device or PC.

If you are already heavily invested in music purchased from iTunes then iCloud will clearly be the better service because you can access all of the iTunes music from iCloud without having to pay anything, nor is there a limit on the amount of iTunes music you can access/store. You do have to pay Apple $24.95 per year to store music that you have on your computers or devices that you did not buy from iTunes, but there is no limit on the amount of storage you can use.

Amazon also does not charge users to store music you purchase from them, but after uploading 5 GB of your own music to Amazon you will have to pay $20 per year for an additional 20 GB. Amazon is, however, providing that additional 20 GB for free this year when you buy an album from their MP3 store. Google’s service does not include a music store, and it is currently in beta so right now you can upload 20,000 songs and store them on their servers for free.

Personally, it seems to me that neither service will steal customers from their competitors. If you use iOS devices today, chances are you use iTunes and probably purchase music from Apple so you will have little reason to use Amazon or Google. If you use an Android smartphone, you have two options, either Amazon or Google, however, if you want to purchase music your choice narrows to Amazon. If you don’t care about buying music and just want to make your music collection available from the Internet then Google is a very good option to try until they announce pricing.