Switching to Amazon Cloud Player

I’ve been using iTunes Match since beta, and I’ve mostly been happy with it. That is, until sometime around the most recent iTunes update cycle, when it started to become moody: flaky and unreliable on some days, fine on others. 

Taking this as a sign that it’s time to start putting effort into getting off the iTunes ecosystem, I have started using Amazon Cloud Player. 

The Good:

First and foremost, so far the best thing about it is it always works. I have not yet encountered flakiness, strangely disappearing songs that were in the playlist yesterday, interminable day-long application stalling, songs that simply refuse to download, songs that simply stop playing halfway through and then won’t play at all, or any other general weirdness. The experience is as close to perfect as our computers allow. Upload a song, and it’s there, all the time, as long as Amazon itself is up. Since that is the primary purpose of these music-in-the-cloud services, I have to say Cloud Player is pretty great.

Device support is good. The recently released iPad app is snappy and easy to use, as is the iPhone app. I don’t have Android but I assume that it’s just as good, esp. given that they sell an Android device. As far as I know, it doesn’t support Roku or other TV devices, but here’s hoping one day it will (especially since e.g. Roku supports Amazon Video; obviously you can’t stream on AppleTV.)

Although hardly a seamless experience, you can continue to use iTunes (or whatever) to play music you buy and download from Amazon. Basically: buy digital on Amazon, and configure your browser to automatically download and import music. Said music will appear automagically on your Cloud Player. This gives you a pretty good best-of-both-worlds experience.

The cloud player is 99% pure HTML, so it performs very well. I run an instance in Fluid and it uses barely a pretty average amount of CPU.

The Less than Good:

The experience is what you might call “bare bones”. If you can’t live without smart playlists and ratings, not to mention pervasive drag-and-drop, Cloud Player probably isn’t for you. Other than the device apps there is no iTunes analog; the player is entirely web-based. The Mozilla-based Songbird player seems a natural fit in terms of technology – it even has a plugin to browse the Amazon MP3 store. I assume Amazon wants to avoid the business of software, since it produces very little in the way of desktop apps, so that’s just my blue-sky dream.

Speaking of desktop apps, the uploader uses the execrable AIR, so it’s horrible on lots of platforms. It stalls, sputters, lies, and generally makes a mess of things. If you have a truly immense library fixing things might take a while; but the most common screw-ups are easily fixed with just a few clicks, and like I said, once they’re fixed they tend to stay fixed.

The match feature made a few mistakes, but so did iTunes, so that’s a wash.

About a third of the default presentation of the player UI is devoted to ads, cross-sell for the currently playing song/album/artist. You can make it go away with a little jQuery magic if it bugs you.

The Bottom Line:

If you need to escape the iTunes ecosystem, Cloud Player is a viable option, provided you properly calibrate your expectations. 

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