Tag Archives: download

Apple’s iCloud Is Transformational

What is iCloud?

iCloud is Apple’s service that allows consumers to shift their storage hub from local hard-drives to the internet. iCloud takes care of syncing a variety of content and information (contacts, mails, calendars, music, photos, videos, documents, etc.) across multiple devices. The following apps are available on iCloud:

  1. Contacts, Calendar, Mail are available on iCloud for free. Apple is shutting down MobileMe, the product that used to do the same at $99 per year.
  2. Apps Store
  3. iBooks
  4. Device backup – Backs up important settings and loads on new device
  5. Documents in the cloud – Supports availability of Pages/Numbers/Keynote across devices.
  6. iCloud storage APIs – For developers to build iCloud apps
  7. Photo Stream – Stores the last 1000 photos on the cloud. Allows access across devices. People with more than 1000 photos can move older ones from Photo Stream to their device.
  8. iTunes
    1. Anything bought on iTunes can be re-downloaded on 10 devices
    2. Automated download to all devices. Download starts when you plug in your iPhone for charging.
    3. For non-iTunes music, consumers can
      1. Sync devices
      2. Buy the songs from iTunes, so it’s available on iCloud
      3. Buy the iTunes Match service at about $25/year. The service lets you match your non-iTunes tracks to iTunes’ 18 million song catalog. Matched songs have the same support as iTunes songs – 256K downloads (even if the original track is less than 256K) available on 10 devices. Unmatched songs will be available on the cloud as is. Apple claims that the matching takes minutes (as opposed to the “weeks” it takes to upload music to Google Music Beta or Amazon Cloud).

How much will iCloud cost?

Some details are not known but for the most part, iCloud is free. Storage for purchased music, apps, books and the 1000 Photo Stream photos are free of cost. 5GB of storage is available for free for mails, documents and backup. Apple indicates that 5GB is more than enough and does not even address the possibility of the need for more than 5GB. The only component of iCloud that costs money is iTunes Match at $24.99.

When will iCloud be available?

iTunes on iCloud is already available. The remaining components will be available this fall.

What about streaming?

No streaming. (I will be writing another post with my theories on why Apple did not roll out streaming).

Why is iCloud transformational?

  1. Comprehensive – It is the first and only service that manages such a wide gamut of “stuff” on the cloud.
  2. Invisible – It is so well integrated with the Apple ecosystem, that consumers may not even notice it. Stuff just becomes available across devices.
  3. Big impact – Except for iTunes Match, it is free. At that price point, adoption of iCloud by anyone with an Apple device is a no brainer. With millions of Apple customers using iCloud, the standard for managing multiple devices has changed permanently. For the better.


Why Music On The Cloud Does Not Make Sense

In a previous post, I talked about why streaming music would never be the same as owning a physical copy of it. Since then, Amazon has launched it’s Cloud Player which takes perfectly good physical copies that you can listen to directly and let’s you stream it over the cloud. While I understand people streaming music that they don’t own, I am bewildered that Amazon (and other companies) thinks that there are customers who are willing to pay them to stream music that they already own. Look at this comparison of the various types of music services and tell me why anybody would pay for Cloud Music (or at least the way Amazon has implemented it).

ParameterCloud ServiceStreaming ServiceOwned Physical Copy
QualityPoor bitrate. Mediocre at best.Varies from low quality (free) to high quality (premium). Another problem with free services - audio ads that spoil the listening experience.Can’t get better than this
CostOne time cost for songs + Recurring extra cost for storage + Recurring bandwidth costsRecurring bandwidth costs + Recurring streaming cost for premium plansOne time cost for songs. No recurring costs. Even is you add the cost of a hard-drive (to mimic the backup functionality of cloud), it’s a one-time low cost (and getting lower every day).
AvailabilityNot available when internet is not available (like on flights), or when there is a service disruption/outage at your ISP or the cloud service provider.Not available when internet is not available (like on flights), or when there is a service disruption/outage at your ISP or the streaming service provider.With a large capacity portable media player (ahem, like an iPod), you can carry your entire music collection with you all the time. No service comes close to this level of availability.
Music CatalogLimited – as many songs as you purchase. But your catalog is yours forever.Unlimited as long as you subscribe. Zip, zilch, nada if you don’t subscribe.Limited – as many songs as you purchase. But your catalog is yours forever.

Music Locker Service – A Primer

Amazon beat Apple and Google in the race to launch a music locker service by launching its Music Cloud Player for the web and Android. This is a primer for anyone who wants to understand what the fuss is all about.

What is it?

A place ‘in the cloud’ to store all your digital music. You get streaming access to all purchased music from any device. At this time, it is not clear if the locker will allow you to download your songs from the locker to any device. My guess is that if you bought the song from the company that’s providing the locker service, you could download it as many times as you time on as many devices as you want.

Amazon’s service allows new purchases from Amazon to be added to the cloud automatically. If you want to add your existing collection to the cloud, you will have to do it manually through an uploader provided by Amazon.

Who will offer this service?

All eyes are focused on three companies to roll out this service some time during 2011 – Google, Apple and Amazon. Other companies will likely jump in the fray but given their traditional strengths and ability to scale, the big three will define the future of digital music.

Now that Amazon has launched its service, expect Google and Apple to roll their services out soon.

What is in it for Google, Apple, Amazon?

Apple wants to offset the advances made in recent years by players (pun!) like Pandora, Spotify and Rdio, that allow access to music from any device. Google and Amazon are getting in the fray because their previous attempts at competing with Apple’s iTunes store have failed. They want to take another shot at carving out a piece of Apple’s lion share of the digital music market.

What’s in it for the music labels?

Music labels believe they are having their arms twisted by Apple, given iTunes dominant position in the market. They think they will get better terms if other big players compete against Apple. They may also be hoping that easy and ubiquitous availability of music may make music piracy not worth the hassle.

Open questions:

Would these services allow storage of songs that have been purchased through other services? If yes, how would the locker service identify that the song copy is legal?

Based on what we have seen of the Amazon Cloud Player, there is no way to check if you are uploading legal content.

What pricing options would they offer?

These services could offer a combination of pricing options that are currently distributed across multiple services – songs for download at a price (iTunes), free streaming of purchased songs (erstwhile LaLa which was bought and shut down by Apple), ad-supported streaming of songs (Pandora) that have not been purchased, tiered premium plans to stream songs that have not been purchased (Rdio, Spotify).

Amazon seems to have stayed away from streaming non-purchased content. It’s charging for song downloads and space to store your collection on the cloud. They have plans starting from 5 GB (free) to 1000 GB ($1000).

Music Wants To Be Free

Pirates (distributors and consumers) often invoke Stewart Brands’ iconic phrase “Information wants to be free” to justify piracy. In a recent discussion with a friend, I argued that Brand used this powerful phrase to suggest that information should be easily available to everybody, not that it should be available free of cost. My friend’s counter-argument was that in India’s context, availability was truly an issue. He told me about how he ended up buying a pirated DVD because the original was not available. He did buy the official DVD when it was eventually released but it was evident that he didn’t really feel obliged to.

While I advocate purchase of legal music, I am unable to find fault with people who are driven to pirated goods in cases like this. I can totally relate with them.

  1. Some time ago I wrote about being unable to get hold of Raghu Dixit’s album. I haven’t listened to his music since then – poor quality internet streams are not my cup of tea.
  2. I ended up buying the music for the Tamil movie, Vinnathaandi Varuvaya, on the iTunes US store, because it was neither available in any physical store in Bangalore (I tried three different ones), nor in any internet store (I tried about a dozen). What was even more shocking? The music label that has the rights, Sony Music, does not even have an India site. Really Sony?! Is that how important the India market is to you? Because of your supply issues, I ended up paying for this album double of what it should have cost me in India. This for an album that had to be one of your bestsellers in 2010.

I know there are other people (like this) who jump through hoops to get legal music.

Music companies – get your act together. Stop whining about piracy and start making your content easily available to paying customers:

  1. Improve your supply of CDs as well as digital music. Even the pirates are doing better than you.
  2. Leverage the long tail. Stop focusing on only the ‘big hits’. The cost of digitizing and distributing music is incremental. Make everything available for download, even, scratch that, specially, the non-hits.
  3. Do a Hulu. Join together and make it easier for people to buy digital music. Google India has done a great job of aggregating streamed music. You can do the same for downloadable music. Don’t make us hop through all your websites to find music.
  4. Develop an India-specific distribution strategy with variable pricing. Don’t forget the bottom of the pyramid. Flood the market with the music equivalent of shampoo sachets – low bit-rate music on pen drives or phone chips. Peg it at a price point that makes downloading/distributing pirated music not worth the hassle.

Make “Music wants to be free” your motto. Or, watch musicians and movie producers bypass you and start self-publishing as you become irrelevant. Worse, watch pirates destroy your industry.

Indian Music Milestones in 2010

Here is our pick of the top milestones related to Indian music in 2010:

  1. AR Rahman’s nomination for Golden Globe – For a few years now, AR Rahman has been steadily progressing towards becoming a global phenomenon. However, this nomination gives him a big push in that direction because, unlike Slumdog Millionaire, his score for 127 hours is largely without any obvious Indian influence (except Acid Darbari).
  2. Google launches music search for India – Anything Google does has the potential to be big. At this time, the service is really a no-frills search built on top of music licensed by three partners. But it could be a lot more in the future.
  3. Introduction of Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2010 – This bill, introduced earlier this year, is likely to be approved soon. For the music industry, the bill’s objective is to give more rights to authors (lyricists, music directors) and performers (singers) and increase protection of copyrighted artifacts (songs). There is a lot of legalese but some of it has been decoded here. Of course, implementation of the law is an entirely different ball game and we’ll have to wait and watch to see if these amendments meet their objectives.
  4. Copyright Board reduces royalties for radio – The Copyright Board reduced radio royalties by about 86% when it fixed the royalty rate to 2% of the radio station’s advertising revenues. Music labels are contesting or bypassing this ruling but for now, the future of radio in India looks safe.
  5. Common Wealth Games (CWG) and Music – Who would have thought that music would be such a big part of CWG games? AR Rahman was universally ridiculed for delivering a mediocre CWG theme song for a hefty price of Rs 5 Crores. He eventually ended up sprucing up his original composition to produce this. Kailash Kher jumped in and gifted this song to the nation to celebrate the spirit of CWG. There may have been a lot of other big names involved in CWG but it was a cute, 7-year old boy who won everyone’s heart with this tabla performance.
  6. Indian songs regularly hit top 10 on iTunes World Music Charts – From Sheila Ki Jawani at the time of writing this post, to Raghu Dixit’s No Man Will Ever Love You to Endhiran. What would happen if India had iTunes?

Are there other milestones we are missing?

The Mystery Of The Missing Raghu Dixit Album

I have been following Raghu Dixit closely over the last few weeks. I found out about him from a tweet by Vishal Dadlani, who, along with Shekhar Ravjiani, ‘discovered’ and promoted him. In fact, Raghu Dixit’s one and only album has been released by their label.

My curiosity piqued, I checked out Raghu Dixit’s sound-check and live performances for a UK TV show called Later…with Jools Holland, and came away impressed by the simplicity of the music and the intensity of his vocals. And from my standpoint, anytime a song has a cool violin piece, it’s a winner. I was also taken in by Raghu’s charming story about how the Jools Holland show came about and his experience in the show. So, when he tweeted this excitedly, I was really happy for him:

I was now all set to deep dive into all his songs but was disappointed to find that the only ‘specialty format’ store in the largest mall in my neighborhood, did not have his self-titled CD. I called five major stores that sell CDs and did not find it anywhere (one store at least offered to take my contact information so they could arrange for the CD and call me back). I then tried online stores and drew a blank there as well. The Raghu Dixit website (www.raghudixit.com) did have a ‘Buy The Album’ link but it took me to UK’s iTunes site. Imagine – an Indian album that hits No. 1 on iTunes World Music charts is not to be found anywhere in Bangalore or online! What was ironical was that there were plenty of options to download Raghu Dixit mp3s from dubious looking websites.

Moral of the story:

  1. Buying music is a chore in India. Downloading pirated mp3s is easy.
  2. Indian music is hit-driven. Non-mainstream musicians (i.e. musicians not involved in the film business) are better off wooing international audiences.

PS: An interview with Raghu Dixit in the Times of India reveals that only 50,000 of his CDs have been sold. Consider yourself lucky if you own the album.

Will Music Piracy Die?

The short answer – No. The long answer follows –

Piracy is not unique to the music industry. Every product that can be duplicated and distributed for profit, invites piracy. However, a few things set apart the nature of piracy in the music industry:

  • Huge market – As I said in a previous post, everyone likes music. Pirates make money from ad clicks and nothing brings in as many hits as music.
  • Easy duplication and distribution – Amongst all digital products, music is the easiest to rip and distribute. Ever tried scanning an entire book or uploading/downloading a 3 hour movie? I haven’t but I can’t imagine it being a pleasant experience.
  • Poor image of the music industry – The investment required to create and distribute music has decreased dramatically over the years. As a result, people grudge (one example here) the music industry for earning a lot despite contributing very little. Pirates use this image of the music industry to their advantage by projecting themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods. Dowloaders use this image to justify their act or subdue their guilt. The artists are nowhere in the picture.

None of these realties are changing any time soon. The music industry’s battle against music pirates will only change the way in which piracy occurs, not its extent. In my last post, I quoted a music industry lawyer saying this – “My assessment is that in two years this type of piracy activity will be completely dead”. She chose her words carefully, especially two words – “this type”.

While music piracy is not dying anytime soon, a change to one of the above mentioned realities might help reduce the extent of piracy – a change that involves the music industry becoming a more benign figure and the artist becoming a much more significant stakeholder.

In 2007, a band called Radiohead (“Creep”, anyone?) released their new album, “In Rainbows” on the internet and let people download it for a price of their choice (including 0) for about 3 months. There is no official information available about the sales figures during this period. Regardless of how much money Radiohead made from this promotion, what is striking is that there were indeed people who paid for something they could have legally downloaded for free. Why? Because they liked Radiohead and because the transaction was between them and Radiohead.

Which leads me to the hypothesis that more people will buy music if – a) the artists put themselves out there and build and engage a fan base, and b) the music industry figures out for itself a less dominant role, in which they are seen as providing value and making reasonable profits.

Music Industry’s Battle Against File Sharing (aka Piracy) Heats Up

A few key events from the last few months:

  • LimeWire shuts down – LimeWire shutdown its P2P file-sharing service in October due to a court-ordered injunction. Within days, it was resurrected as LimeWire Pirate Edition (LPE) by a ‘secret dev team’. Predictably, LimeWire claimed that it had nothing to do with LPE. PCMag, very thoughtfully, informed its readers of the various LimeWire alternatives. RIAA, one of the entities whose suit against LimeWire led to the shutdown injunction, blasted PCMag for promoting music piracy. PCMag responded that it was only covering news and that the music execs should accept that the “industry has changed” (my interpretation, “music piracy is here to stay”) and that they should adjust their business model to account for it.
  • Pirate Bay administrators convicted for violating copyright law – Last April, 4 individuals associated with Pirate Bay, another P2P file sharing service, were convicted by a Swedish court. After many months of legal imbroglio, an appeals court upheld the conviction but reduced their jail time and increased their fine. Stung by the verdict, a hacking group called The Anonymous launched attacks on the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and Warner Bros websites and brought them down. Meanwhile, the Pirate Bay website is still up, apparently being run out of Seychelles.
  • The US Government shuts down 82 websites involved in copyright infringement – In response, a Pirate Bay co-founder is mobilizing support to create a peer-to-peer domain name system (P2P DNS) which will not depend on ICANN, and therefore immune to shutdowns of this kind.
  • And in India, execs of guruji.com were arrested for alleged copyright infringement – The only news update since the arrest in January is that the execs were eventually released. Guruji.com continues to be operational and still allows search and download of mp3 files, with this disclaimer – “Guruji.com indexes third-party websites and does not have control over, nor any liability for the content of such third-party websites. If you believe that any of the search results below, link to content that infringes your copyright, please contact us.

With the high-profile arrests and shutdowns, the music industry thinks it is winning the battle against piracy. The New York Times reported a lawyer representing the companies suing the Pirate Bay admins saying this “My assessment is that in two years this type of piracy activity will be completely dead”.

My take – in the next post.