In a perfect world, you'd be able to access your entire music library from any computer, iPhone, iPad or any other cellphone, sans USB. You wouldn't have to transfer files or carry around a portable hard drive. Finally, that world is here, but it's not perfect... yet. Let me introduce you to cloud music storage. Though it still needs plenty of tweaking, it provides the best of two worlds -- music streaming and your personal library at the touch of a button.
The cloud music concept really took flight with Lala.com offering listeners the option of new music exposure. But with Apple acquiring Lala last year, its days may be numbered, as no word is out yet on exactly what Apple is going to do with the company. On Wednesday, mSpot -- known mostly for its abilities to stream entire movies (albeit with reception that's a bit fuzzy) on the go --launched a private beta for a cloud music service of its own aimed at smartphone users. Made to stream to Android phones over 3G networks (and to BlackBerry in the near future), it's a huge step in the right direction. It's definitely ahead of MySpace Music and their ad-supported interface, or Spotify with its limitations in the U.S. due to copyright restrictions.
Aimed at delivering music, full-length feature films, full-format radio, and TV to more than six million mobile customers across 10 wireless carriers, mSpot has the potential to save music lovers a lot of money. They work closely with all four major music labels (Sony, EMI, Warner, and Universal), as well as major studios (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, The Walt Disney Studios, Image Entertainment, Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, and Screen Media Ventures) and broadcast companies (including ABC, CBS, ClearChannel, Fox Sports, NPR) to provide the best content.
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Instead of selling songs, they sell storage. Up to 2GB of storage on their cloud server is free, 10GB will run $3 a month, and 20GB of storage goes for just $5 a month. They're specifically targeting cell phone users, and the software works on both PCs and Macs. They're marketed as an easy way to sync music from your PC to your phone with no cables or downloads required.
mSpot shows you the lyrics of any song with one click -- which is an added bonus -- but to conserve storage space, the service compresses your music files to 48kbs AAC+ files. Now what does that mean exactly? It's a significant quality downgrade from what you purchase from iTunes, and could pose a legitimate audible problem for hardcore audiophiles. You'll hear low bitrates and most users will be uploading songs that have already been data-compressed when they were initially encoded as MP3 or AAC files. Hearing your favorite tunes over a cell phone speaker might not make the sound quality that noticeable, but with headphones you'll definitely hear the difference.
mSpot has the potential to drive portable music listening into the future, but the verdict is still out on whether they'll be able to compete with whatever Apple ends up coming up with.