To The Cloud

Lets talk about how awesome and sucky the world of technology is today in 2012. I’m going to use an example.

I was in a coffee shop today (Chhaya, awesome) and I heard a piece of music that I thought was pretty cool. I whipped out my phone and fired up Shazam. Shazam took a minute to sample the song and determined the songs name and artist. Then it offered me a click to buy through amazon. I clicked the link and that took me to the amazon mp3 store on my phone (I had the app but if I didn’t it would have offered to install for me). The album came up and it was $5. I clicked “Buy” and the album was placed in my amazon cloud drive. This means that wherever I was (at home, on my phone, in Tibet at a net cafe, etc) I would have the music available to me. I could also of course download from my cloud drive to keep local copies of the music (nice amazon). So then I get into my car and my stereo locks in to my phone via bluetooth (automatic, seamless). I decide I want to hear the song so I fire up my amazon cloud player app on my phone and presto, I’m hearing the song in my car.

Just take a second to marvel at how amazing this is. I am a tech nerd and I still am blow away at how far, how fast we’ve come with technology. It was only in 2001 when apple introduced iTunes and the ability to actually buy real music. In that time we now have non-DRM music available from multiple vendors and we can stream most of it for free (see Spotify for example). But with having the net on phones we can now utilize services like Shazam to find out what we’re listening to instantly. That’s simply amazing. Oh, also the ‘smart phone’ concept dates back to Apple in 2007 with the iPhone.

It’s here that I should note to you that while I hate Apple in many ways I have to give them lots of props by being bold and actually making technology that is transformative. Yes, other companies could have put out smart phones or made deals with music companies to sell mp3’s but they didn’t. They didn’t have the balls that Steve Jobs had. I’ll give the bastard that much.

But here’s where Apple sucks (and I apologize for the divergence here)… Apple made a decision a long time ago to keep their world closed. The apple ecosystem is the most locked down platform in the world of consumer technology. It is literally impossible to interact with Apple technology from outside. You either buy into the Apple way or you don’t. There’s no middle ground.

I know why they do it and it makes a lot of sense. Partially they do it because a monopoly makes money and as a hard core market capitalist I can respect that. But the other reason is that by controlling everything, they can keep the user experience clean and simple. Look at android. There are dozens of flavors of android right now. My Nexus S is a totally different phone from the UI perspective than the HTC Thunderbolt or the Motorola tablet. Is this a good thing? I don’t know. I suspect not.

But back to the point of this post. (I will come back to this Closed/Open problem in a minute). As amazing as my experience was, we should be a whole lot farther along than that right now and the reason is that we are living in an open world. Let me explain by expanding my example into the negative.

So I’m home now and in a few days I will be in the shower and it probably would be amazing for me to hear that song again at that moment but even if I wanted to I couldn’t do it easily. Why? Well the reason is that my shower stereo is connected to a Logitech Squeezebox Touch player and it doesn’t have access to the Amazon cloud drive built in. The touch by default has Internet radio and the ability to hook into my local mp3 collection (stored on a NAS in my basement) and I listen to Internet radio mostly cause setting up the mp3 library and keeping it up to date is a painful experience (software is ok, but could be a lot better). There is the ability to add plug-ins and I’ll bet there is one for the amazon cloud drive but I’m not going to bother with that either since it’s complicated for me to install. I could also download the music from my cloud drive into my local collection and use the touch mp3 player (as noted above).

Also there is the fact that I have music purchased at amazon, itunes, google and the actual songs are all over the place. Some are on cloud services (amazon and google), some are on my work computer (where I use iTunes) and most are from my ripped CDs on my NAS drive. There is currently no way to unify all of this music in one place other than downloading them all into my local NAS. The flip side is that if I want to access my music somewhere other than home I can’t do that either since only some things are on cloud drives.

Another problem is that I have all this music but I totally forget it exists. I bought a Bowie record a month ago and listened to it for one day. Never since. Why? Because I forgot about it. There is currently no software that will scan my music library and recommend stuff to me: “oh, you got this music the other day, you haven’t listened to it in a while.. want to hear it again now?”, “this tune would go well with what you are listening to”, etc. Yes the apple Genius and other things are getting close to solving this but nothing is there yet.

So what’s the solution? What is the actual problem? The problem is that there is no unified platform here. This brings us to Apple. They recently are starting to move to the cloud and if I buy into Apple and get an iPhone, an Apple Tv and a standalone music player device for my stereo(they don’t have one but I’m sure they will soon), maybe an apple cloud account, iTunes on all my computers, etc. and whatever else they have I could have a unified experience. Does Shazam link into that experience? No. Does the next company to come up with a useful music app connect in? Nope. While Apple can build a cool, seamless user experience I have to do it the Apple way 100%. I have to depend on them to build me an iTunes that does what I want. The chances of them doing what I want are slim. I am not the average consumer. I am not satisfied with what Apple gives me. I want to make my own choices. I like being able to code my own music software, or buy someone else’s and plug it in to my ecosystem. But it sucks for me because its so complex to manage. This is where the closed/open thing becomes something that I can’t really decide the merits of.

But I have a solution for the current problem and someone needs to do it. Here we go…

A third party needs to build a music cloud service that is open to everyone. Simple right? Imagine this scenario :

I hear a tune I like. I fire up Shazam. Shazam links me to amazon (or someone else) to buy. I buy. Amazon delivers the music to my previously linked up 3rd party music cloud. The cloud is hooked up to my music player on my phone, my iTunes at work, my Squeezebox touch in my bathroom, my preferred web listening client, etc. All of my owned music in in that music cloud and all of my apps talk to it. When I buy a song from iTunes or Google or whoever, it all goes there.

Would I pay for this service? You bet I would. To have all my music and media there? Safe, backed up, accessible everywhere? Most definitely. Then companies can build services on either side of that cloud. They can market and sell me music, they can build services that analyze my collection and build playlists, they can build music players that rock, etc.

The fact that all of these competing systems exist is what disappoints me the most. The fact that so many people lock to Apple is not 100% because they make the best products, it’s mostly about the seamless user experience (even though in many ways it’s kind of lacking). I believe if someone would build a cloud storage solution that is so open that companies like apple, google and amazon will allow it as a delivery/consumption option it would be transformative. We need it now!

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