Tag Archives: Music

Apple confirms $3 billion acquisition of Beats

Apple today confirmed its long-rumored acquisition of Beats Music and Beats Electronics for a total of $3 billion, according to a Beats press release.

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It’s a three-pronged acquisition including the acqui-hire of Beats co-founders Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine; Beats subscription streaming service; and the Beats hardware.

“Music is such an important part of all of our lives and holds a special place within our hearts at Apple,” said Apple’s Tim Cook in the Beats Press Release. “That’s why we have kept investing in music and are bringing together these extraordinary teams so we can continue to create the most innovative music products and services in the world.”

“I’ve always known in my heart that Beats belonged with Apple,” said Jimmy Iovine. “The idea when we started the company was inspired by Apple’s unmatched ability to marry culture and technology. Apple’s deep commitment to music fans, artists, songwriters and the music industry is something special.”

Beats Music is a subscription streaming service that generates customized playlists based on a user’s musical tastes — similar to Pandora’s Music Genome Project, as well as other recommendation platforms.

Beats Photo by Flickr user briansolis / In-column photo from Twitter.com/tim_cook

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Top 5 tools for Mobile Productivity

Mobile is looking like Web 3.0 with the emergence of mobile devices like the iPad, Kindle and Nook; the rise in smartphone usage; and the explosion of mobile apps. It’s not just for work. Mobile is taking over our lives. Work and play.

We’ve compiled the Top Five tools for Mobile Productivity, from the workplace to strictly entertainment.

Top Five tools for Mobile Productivity

1. Cloud Drives

Storage & Music

Standalone Cloud storage services like Dropbox receive most of the press. But Amazon’s variety comes with a music store.

Amazon is also a great place to store your music. Music purchases from the Amazon mp3 store can be saved directly to your cloud. And thus can be accessed anywhere and with a growing number of devices including smartphones and tablets. Start off with 5 GB of free storage. Just sign in, sign up for your free 5 GB and start uploading files for backup, storage or  to listen to your tunes without taking up space on your mobile device.

Hundreds of companies trust Amazon Web Services for their storage and hosting needs, including Netflix — which accounts for 25% of US Internet traffic — Yelp, Foursquare, PBS, Washington Post, Razorfish, SEGA, Urbanspoon, Tweet Deck, Airbnb, Harvard Medical School, NASA, Virgin Atlantic and more.

2. Google Apps

Calendar & Google Docs

It’s time to move on from Outlook, people. Google is the place to be. When I use Outlook for email or the calendar, it feels like I’m navigating a rotary phone…plus it’s tied to a machine. Google Calendar and Docs, as well as gmail, is tied to nothing; it’s all on the cloud. Access all of it on any computer, any smartphone, tablet or mobile device. Get calendar reminders on your smartphone.

With Google Apps (formerly Google Docs) user can save Documents, open Office products like Word and Excel — with or without Microsoft Office. When you save documents in the cloud — like resumes, presentations, pictures — they’re always with you.

Google’s smartphone apps — and native integration with most mobile devices — make all of your documents, calendar appointments and messages accessible anywhere with an Internet connection. Save documents, presentations or pictures as a backup or for instant access on any of your devices.

To get started, just sign up for gmail and click “Documents” at the top. [Note: if by the time of this post, Google has changed its navigation bar to a drop-down menu, just click the drop-down and find Documents.] Then start uploading files or Create a new document.

3. Smartphone Apps

There’s an app for that. It’s not just a saying. There really is an app for everything. News, Shopping, Books, Movies, TV, Social Networking, Checking in and just about anything else you can think of. Some of Tech Weekly’s favorites free apps for productivity and entertainment on the go:

  • Pulse News Reader – News from all around the web in one place
  • QwickMark QR Code Reader – Scan QR codes with this free app
  • ShopSavvy – Scan product bar codes to compare prices online and stores near you
  • Netflix* – all of Netflix instant streaming on your smartphone
  • Crackle by Sony – Free movies and TV on your smartphone
  • NFL Mobile – NFL News, Highlights and Live Streaming video
  • Amazon – Browse and buy everything Amazon on your smartphone
  • Amazon Kindle – Kindle’s library at your fingertips
  • Amazon mp3 – Listen to your library of songs from Amazon’s cloud drive
  • Slacker – Slacker Personal Radio on your smartphone
  • Foursquare – Check in to earn points, become mayor and unlock specials
  • Twitter – Follow your interests or tweet on the go with Twitter’s mobile app
  • Facebook – Update your status, check the newsfeed, check in or chat with friends
  • Shazam – Can’t name that song on the radio, just click Shazam and it’ll tell you
  • Flickr – Take photos and upload them to Yahoo’s Flickr
  • Yelp – Check reviews or find a new place to eat with Yelp’s smartphone app
*Subscription required for Netflix

4. MyFax

MyFax makes having a fax machine unnecessary. In fact, MyFax improves upon the old-school fax and then some.

No download necessary, just sign up for a MyFax account and you’ll be assigned a MyFax number. (You can pick the area code.) Once you’ve signed in, just click “Send a Fax.” Then enter the recipient’s fax number and attach the document you’d like to fax. Either scan the page to your computer and attach to the MyFax interface OR if the file is already on your computer, just attach. MyFax comes with some cool features including Cover Page Style; Status Flag for Urgent, Review, Comment, etc; and a Message Box. The recipient receives the fax in his/her fax machine, just like a normal fax.

Receive faxes right in your MyFax inbox as PDF or JPEG files. MyFax alerts you immediately via email. In fact, you can view the fax in your email inbox. If you’ve got email on your smartphone, you can view the fax right there. MyFax is a must for mobile work.

Send 100 faxes per month and receive 200 for only $10. Other options include Send 200, Receive 200 for $20. Or Send 400, Receive 400 for $40. Or an unlisted option of Send 50, Receive 50 for $5 per month. The plans can be changed at any time, though you’ll have to call MyFax to do it. Ironically, for an online fax service, you can’t change plans online. Though email is taking over, many businesses still fax documents. So ditch the fax machine and extra phone line and give MyFax a look.

5. Netflix

Netflix is the best thing to come to TV since color. It’s move to mobile only strengthens its hold on streaming movies and television content. And once you’ve got a Netflix subscription, it’s free on an unlimited number of devices. Use your one Netflix subscription on TVs, tablets, smartphones, etc. At home and on the road.

Until you’ve streamed Netflix content on a mobile device, it’s difficult to understand. A library of more than 20,000 titles available instantly with the tap of your finger. It’s as close to a dream as you’ll get.

To get started, just sign up for Netflix (streaming subscription starts at $7.99 per month after 1-month free trial) and download the Netflix app for your smartphone or mobile device. You’ll only have to sign in the first time after you download the app. From there on out it’s blue skies and smooth streaming.

Netflix is available on more than 700 devices including PCs; Macs; Internet-connected TVs; video-game consoles; Blu-ray players; Internet video players like Roku and Boxee; iPhone; iPad; Apple TV as well as Android and Windows devices…and more.


On-demand is the next TiVo

TiVo revolutionized the way we watch television, allowing us to record, pause and rewind live TV broadcasts and even skip commercial content. TiVo is second nature to us now; in fact, it’s even become a verb.

To the networks and advertisers, it posed a slight challenge to not only prime-time TV — by allowing users to watch content on their schedule — but also commercials. If users could record a program and watch it whenever they chose, what would happen to prime-time TV and advertising?

But in every way TiVo has changed our lives, and commercials, On-Demand TV is set to overshadow it completely. And one day, become the main source of TV entertainment.

On-Demand refers to content that’s available in a digitally recorded format like videos on Netflix, Hulu Plus or other streaming services; pay cable services like Time Warner On-Demand or Comcast On-Demand; or premium cable like HBO GO and Showtime On-Demand. Right now, the On-Demand offerings from cable companies are a bonus offered with a pay-TV subscription. Others feature On-Demand movies that cost as much as $6 per rental.

What I’m suggesting is that, in the near future, our television content will be built around On-Demand offerings. There will still be live TV, however it will be delivered through the Internet. A delivery method referred to as IPTV or Internet Protocol TV. Comcast is already testing IPTV at MIT.

On-Demand puts the entire TV experience — Movies, News, Sports, TV shows — on the user’s schedule, not the networks. For the majority of you still enjoying pay-TV, on the network’s schedule, think about how TiVo has changed our lives. Can you imagine TV without TiVO? Ten years from now On-Demand will have the same effect, only greater.

To me — now more than one year into my cable-cutting lifestyle — On-Demand TV is second-nature. When I want to watch a particular show, I watch the show, whether it’s 7pm, 7:20pm or 2am. The Colbert Report; Saturday Night Live; Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares; Lie to Me; 30 Rock; Comedy Central; Weeds; MasterChef; Mad Men; The Office; SportsCenter; even NBC News, CBS, ABC, or older shows like Arrested Development, a new obsession of mine even though the show concluded in 2006. On-Demand increases the shelf-life of television, therefore increasing the benefit to advertisers.

With On-Demand, users don’t have to wait for it to be on. It’s always on. And waiting.

I’m so accustomed to On-Demand that when I travel, I bring my Roku with me. The last two weeks I’ve been out of town. I’m staying at a Residence Inn by Marriott, equipped with everything I’d need for my three-week stay: refrigerator, oven, stove, microwave, flat-screen HDTV including HBO, ESPN and more. Everything, that is, but my On-Demand TV content.

I hooked up my Roku and rarely flipped on pay-TV, even with premium cable like HBO included. Below is a photo of my Roku XD, which I bought at Best Buy for $79.99. Roku is completely subscription free and offers Internet apps including Netflix; Hulu Plus; Amazon Instant Video; Pandora; CNet; Blip.tv; Break.com; Crackle; Facebook Photos; FlickrNASA; Revision3; NBA Game Time; MLB.tv; NHL Game Center; and Roku Newscaster, a Channel featuring news from all the major news outlets and more: Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS, Aljazeera, NASA, CNet, Current TV, ESPN, C-Span, NPR, PRI and BBC. For Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video a subscription to each is required. For more on Roku, read my in-depth review here.

Prime Time? What Prime Time? There’s no more Prime Time TV with On-Demand. Prime Time is up to the viewer.

What that also means for both viewers and networks — in addition to advertisers — is that a viewer can join the show at any time and catch up immediately via previous seasons On-Demand.

Viewership, and TV ratings, become more like a magazine, with a longer shelf-life. Not only for the television content but advertising as well. As I mentioned, I’m watching Arrested Development, which first aired in 2003 and ended in 2006. I was able to start with Season 1, episode 1.

With Hulu Plus — a great model for On-Demand TV — advertising is incorporated into each program — usually two ads per commercial break totaling about 60 seconds. They’re unable to be skipped; but actually, I wouldn’t anyway. The break is actually nice. On-Demand has changed the way I view TV and commercials. And will soon change TV all together.

The biggest fear of cable and TV networks today is the broadcast to on-demand delay. Cable companies and networks are attempting to increase the time it takes from broadcast until it becomes available on-demand for Netflix, Hulu or any other IPTV service. Fox announced last week that it was limiting the next-day streaming of content on Fox.com and Hulu.com in an attempt to curb the adoption of On-Demand streaming.

The networks can fight all they want. Their efforts are only delaying the inevitable.


Tech companies battling for customers

This is a great time to be a consumer. Companies are battling to release the next greatest advancement in technology — whether it’s NFC, Cloud Storage, Streaming Video or even Social Networking — and the consumers are ready and waiting. The instant a company releases a new product or service, the competition follows suit.

And that makes today’s consumer more connected than ever.

Brand extensions are to blame for much of the competition in technology today. Foursquare brings about Facebook Places. Skype leads to Google Hangouts. Square brings mobile payment to the forefront, with PayPal and Google following closely behind. Facebook (and MySpace before that) brought the rise of the social network; Google is now employing a brand extension with Google+.

A Brand Extension is when a company known for a particular good/service attempts to extend its services to another business category beyond its initial range.

Now, the current landscape:

Social Networking

Facebook vs. Google+

Facebook has been king of the social networking world since it overtook MySpace in 2008. MySpace was recently sold to Specific Media and entertainment artist Justin Timberlake. It’s future is still uncertain.

In the limited beta release of Google+, Google goes head to head with Facebook. A similar scenario to its battle with MySpace, only Google+ seems better equipped.

Google+ invites are on the streets as the company seems to be opening up its social network to more users. It’s limited beta at first offered only short windows for invites from current users. The service already is reported to have users in the millions, after a little more than one week on the market. Facebook, meanwhile, recently confirmed it has acquired 750 million users.

Mobile Payment

Square vs. Google vs. Paypal

Mobile payments are a hot topic, and the most popular service is likely Square, which hit $1 million in processed payments after less than a year in business. Square was launched by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in May of 2010.

Square allows users — whether it’s for personal or businesses use — to accept credit card payments using a smartphone and Square’s free mobile payment device, through which users swipe their actual plastic cards. (Square does not use NFC technology.)

Google unveiled its Google Wallet offering, a partnership with Citi, MasterCard, First Data, and Sprint. Google Wallet is an Android app that makes your phone your wallet. It accomplishes this by storing virtual versions of your plastic cards on your smartphone.

Using Near-Field Technology (NFC), users will be able to pay via their Google-Wallet equipped smartphones simply by tapping the phone on a checkout reader, available at many merchant locations.

And most recently, PayPal bolstered its mobile offering on July 7 with the $240 million acquisition of mobile-payment service Zong.

Zong partners with hundreds of mobile phone carriers around the world and allows users to enter their mobile phone number to make purchases. The charges are then applied to the user’s monthly mobile-phone bill.

Zong was eBay’s second mobile acquisition. The first was Fig Card, a Square-like device that allows users to accept payments with credit cards by swiping them through Fig’s USB-powered reader.

Check-ins

Foursquare vs. Facebook

Location-based applications allow users to ‘check-in’ via smartphone and share their location with other users of the service or other social networks. Users are able to see who else is checked in at a given location (from all users) or friends in nearby locations. By checking in, users receive points and/or badges and can unlock certain specials determined by the retailer.

The most publicized of these location-based apps is Foursquare. Today, there are a reported 8 million Foursquare users, up from just one million a year ago.

With the introduction of Facebook Places and other location-based services like Whrrl, which was acquired by daily deals service Groupon in mid-April, companies are copying Foursquare’s model. And vice versa, as evidenced by Foursquare’s recent inclusion and emphasis on its Yelp-like service directory Explore. Brand extensions are on display everywhere we look.

In June, Fast Company took a closer look at Foursquare vs. Facebook Places.

Video Inside Social Networking

Google vs. Facebook

With Google+, the company introduced Hangouts, a video-calling service. One week later, Facebook announced a partnership with Skype, allowing users to make video calls over the social network.

Facebook Video Calling will feature one-on-one video calls to your friends, a stripped-down version of Skype from what I understand. (Note: that’s not me in the screenshot; it’s a Facebook promo screen.)

The biggest advantage with Facebook Video Calling has when compared to Skype is that users don’t have to sign-up and login to Skype to chat; they simply do so through Facebook.

Google+ Hangouts allows group video chats with up to 10 participants, a sort of live chat room among your friends.

When Google+ Hangouts feature is launched, you can choose whom to invite in the video chat or simply alert all friends (or any other Circle) that you’re hanging out. And then wait for someone, among the Circle you’ve selected, to respond. (Note: that is me in the screenshot below, chatting with no one.)

As you can see at the bottom of the chat window (above), YouTube is also accessible via Hangouts.

I haven’t really discovered how YouTube can be used inside Hangouts. But I did watch Cake’s The Distance. I guess if my friends were on there we could have all watched it together…and then checked all of our reactions?

Google+ Hangouts and YouTube might be useful for work-related presentations. This service encroaches on GoToMeeting‘s territory. Now I’ve just got to find some people who want to have a meeting about Cake.

Cloud Storage

Amazon vs. Apple

On the Cloud, users can store music, videos, photos, and documents, which are then accessible from any computer or device with an internet connection and access to the cloud.

Amazon starts users off with a free 5GB of storage space. The 5GB of free space is about enough space, Amazon says, to store 1,000 songs. This first tier is free and you’ll never be charged for it. If a user purchases a digital album from Amazon’s mp3 store (amazon.com), it’ll upgrade your 5GB of free storage to 20GB. Other pricing/storage options for the Amazon Cloud range from 20GB to 1,000GB of space.

Apple iCloud operates in the same way as the Amazon Cloud Player, with iTunes integrated into iCloud. Everything purchased on iTunes is automatically accessible on the iCloud, in addition to other apps, photos, books and documents.

Streaming Music

Some companies like Amazon and Apple have tied their digital music services directly to Cloud Storage. Others like Slacker and Pandora are offering a more entertainment-centered approach.

Pandora makes things easy for listeners: subscription free and on nearly every device you own.

Pandora got its start on the computer. But the company is making even bigger leaps away from its traditional home on the PC; Pandora is now available on smartphones, tablets, televisions and a select number of automobiles.

According to a published report from Advertising Age, more than 50 percent of Pandora listening accomplished on devices other than the PC.

Slacker, however, is beginning to outshine Pandora in both integration and subscription options. Slacker offers three ways to listen. The first tier, like Pandora, is free of charge (but with ads) and allows users to create a custom station based on a particular band or song. The second is a paid subscription plan that provides unlimited song skips and is ad-free; Slacker Radio Plus is $3.99 per month.

Slacker also has a partnership with ABC News, with news breaks at the top of each hour for subscribers of either Slacker Plus or Slacker Premium Radio.

Slacker’s newest subscription is called Slacker Premium Radio. At $9.99 per month, this service includes everything available in Slacker Radio Plus as well as on-demand music, allowing listeners to search for and play songs on-demand, or songs from a particular artist. Slacker Premium Radio encroaches on MOG’s and Rdio’s territory — a brand-extension of sorts — by offering on-demand music.

It’s an exciting time for both consumers and businesses. Each service is experiencing tremendous competition — which only fuels innovation — as companies vie for the consumers’ time, interest and money.

The customers ultimately decide which products succeed and which ones flop. Therefore the success of these businesses relies much on us, the consumers, and in our experiences with these products and brands and how seamlessly we can integrate them into our lives.

The best technology becomes second-nature, like a brand extension of ourselves.

Source: PC Magazine, cbsradio.com, siriusxm.com, pandora.com, slacker.com, usatoday.com, cnet.com, radioink.com, Ando Media, Mashable.com, Mediapost.com, TechCrunch, Tech Crunch TVFast Company, Mashable, Techmeme, CNet, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOm, Engadget, CNN Money, MacWorld, AdAge, All Things Digital, The Next Web, Foursquare, Google, Facebook, Pandora, Slacker, Square, Paypal, Amazon.

My head is in the clouds

Just when I understood the difference between Cumulus, Stratus and Cirrus, everyone’s talking about this new Internet Cloud.

The Cloud

The Cloud has been receiving a lot of buzz lately. But in fact, the Cloud (or cloud computing) is really just a metaphor for the Internet — and personal storage on a network. So it’s not exactly new. In a sense, our email operates on a Cloud. If you’ve ever logged into your email from more than one location, or stored email messages in a folder for viewing later, you’ve accomplished the same thing.

There’s also a distinction between Public and a Private Clouds, as well as hybrids, which I have yet to wrap my head around. That’s why we’re sticking to Public Cloud talk in this post.

If anyone’s an expert in this Cloud bu’ness (particularly public vs. private or hybrid clouds), feel free to shoot me an email at ericsadblog@gmail.com and set me straight.

Nevertheless, the press surrounding it has certainly exploded within the last year. As well as the number of companies developing their own cloud services for the public. Namely, Amazon, Google and most recently Apple.

The Cloud is like a hard drive in the sky, allowing users to store files on a computer network accessible on-demand from any device with an Internet connection. Versus storing documents on a local computer, and thus only accessible from that specific computer.

Users can upload their own music to the Cloud, in addition to documents, photos, videos, etc, in addition to use as a backup service. Or as with Amazon and soon Apple via iTunes, users can purchase music online and save it directly to the Cloud.

The only limitation with the Cloud is that an Internet Connection is required to access it; though files can be saved from the Cloud to a local device (computer, smartphone, tablet, etc) for offline access. But I suppose that’s the same as saying you can only make calls on your cell phone where you have service. That hasn’t exactly stopped adoption of mobile phones.

Cloud Choices – It’s awfully overcast

Clouds come in different shapes and sizes (both real clouds and Internet Clouds). Most companies are offering a free amount of storage space to start (for example, Amazon offers 5GB free) with premium-priced storage upgrades.

Amazon, Google and Apple are entering a heated battle over Cloud services. All three of which are putting emphasis on music storage with the Amazon Cloud Player, Google Music Beta and Apple’s iCloud, which will reportedly feature streaming music and integration with iTunes.

Apple Inc’s CEO Steve Jobs is expected to introduce and fully explain its iCloud tomorrow, June 6, at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. (It’s a cool $1,599 to attend WWDC. If you didn’t buy your tickets, it’s too late; the event’s sold out. I had my credit card ready and everything. Maybe next year.)

Now, onto the Clouds. There are many Cloud services and companies offering Public or Private Clouds for Business. Here are Cloud offerings from three of the biggest players in media in Amazon, Google and Apple:

Amazon Cloud Drive

Amazon’s cloud drive starts you off with 5GB of storage space for free with additional premium plans from $20 to $1,000 per year, billed annually. Users can store “music, videos, photos, and documents on Amazon’s secure servers.” The 5GB of free space is about enough space, Amazon says, to store 1,000 songs. This first tier is free and you’ll never be charged for it.

If a user purchases a digital album from Amazon’s mp3 store (amazon.com), it’ll upgrade your 5GB of free storage to 20GB. Though after one year, if not renewed, users will be bumped down to the free 5GB. It’s not an automatic renewal, so that’s nice in my opinion. We’ve all taken advantage of free offers and forgotten about them, only to be charged for something we didn’t really want.

Other pricing/storage options are as follows, from 20GB to 1,000GB of space:

Google Cloud Apps & Google Music Beta

Google has taken a slightly different approach to the Cloud, offering a sleek line of Cloud Apps for different purposes. And Google’s been at this a while. I’m sure most of us are familiar with at a least a few of its Cloud Apps, whether or not we knew that’s what they were called. Google’s Cloud Apps include Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Chrome, Google Groups, among others.

“Because data in Google Apps is stored in the cloud instead of on employee computers, multiple users can access and contribute to projects simultaneously without worrying about using the same operating system, software, or browser. For example, instead of collaborating on a document by sending back and forth revision after revision as attachments, documents are stored in the cloud with Google Apps. Coworkers can access the web-based document simultaneously in their browsers, and even make changes that other authorized users can see in real-time. Eliminating attachment round-trips by storing data in the cloud saves time and reduces frustrations for teams who need to work together efficiently.” – Google.com / Google Apps for Business

Google Music Beta 

In May, Google introduced Google Music Beta, a Cloud storage service for your music, similar to Amazon’s Cloud Player. Google, however, provides quite an impressive amount of storage in the Beta version, enough for 20,000 songs according to ZDNet. Amazon’s free 5GB allows around 1,000 songs.

Google Music Beta is available in the U.S. by invitation only and free for a limited time, according to the landing page in the Android Market.

Apple iCloud set to be unveiled June 6, 2011 at WWDC in San Francisco

The last of the three to introduce a Cloud music service, Apple may have been waiting for a reason. Reports have it that Apple has deals with Warner Music, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Group to stream songs directly to the iCloud, like Pandora, Slacker, Rdio and other streaming services.

It’s rumored that the service will start with a free trial for iTunes customers, followed by a $25 per-year rate. ZDNet‘s Larry Dignan says Apple will also look to sell advertising around the cloud service.

Apple currently offers a Cloud service called MobileMe, a subscription-based collection of  Internet services for Mac OS X, Windows, iPad,iPhone, and iPod Touch.

Apple’s iCloud all but ensures the next round of iPods will be able to connect to Wi-Fi or a 3G network.

Expect more on iCloud tomorrow after Apple’s WWDC.

A Face-Off in the Cloud

If Apple’s iCloud introduces what everyone is reporting — streaming music — this isn’t just a battle between Amazon, Google and Apple but also Nicolas Cage Pandora, Slacker, Rdio and other music streaming services. According to San Francisco’s International Business Times, Apple has also been in talks with the film industry, possibly adding movies and video to iCould. Could Apple be looking to face off against Netflix as well?

They’ve already invested in video streaming with Apple TV, though the service only includes a small line of Internet apps and pay-per-view titles, no content deals with film studios. If Apple reaches a deal with the film industry for iCloud, you can bet those titles are coming to Apple TV as well.

Amazon and Apple have a clear advantage in that users can purchase music from either Amazon.com or iTunes and have it saved directly to the respective Cloud. Apple’s support from major record labels could push it to the front of the pack.

How I’ve been using the Cloud

For the past month, I’ve been enjoying my time in the Cloud. I signed up for the 5 free GB of Amazon Cloud back in April. I then bumped that up to 20 GB free with the purchase of the one-day special (then two-day special due to high demand and a server crash) on Lady Gaga’s new album for only 99 cents. (If you’re curious, I bought if for my wife. Well, plus the additional 15 GB of storage space.)

The increase to 20GB lasts for one year. But, once that free trial runs out, I’ll probably be so used to using it that I’ll have to renew. (After all, it’s only $20 per year.) That is, unless I’m swayed by Apple’s iCloud offering.

The Amazon Cloud allows you to store music, documents, pictures or video. I have a number of files saved for backup or if I need a document when I’m on the road. But I’ve mostly been using Amazon’s Cloud for its Cloud Player.

Amazon Cloud Player – When I’m at the gym or in my car, the Cloud Player is great, with access to all of my songs and without taking up space on my phone.

I’ve also been taking advantage of Google Docs.

I reinstalled my operating system on my Dell XPS M1530 a while back, and haven’t gotten around to installing Microsoft Office. But with Google Docs, I haven’t really needed it.

What’s next for the Cloud?

 

In our increasingly mobile lifestyles, the Cloud is just what we need. And at just the right time. We’re all part of this mobile shift. A shift in the way we work, live, play, communicate and collaborate.

Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets, Netbooks, and entertainment services like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Slacker as well as mobile payments like Google Wallet, and NFC technology. Mobile is taking over the news and our lives.

The Cloud is the next logical step in connecting our mobile devices to all of our files, music and video.

Today, home is wherever we are. Office productivity and entertainment can happen anywhere. I suppose that’s both good and bad. Luckily, if we choose to use it, there’s an off switch.

 

Amazon is taking over the web

What started out as an online bookstore is now not only the largest online retailer but also the company to beat in the digital world. Amazon is building a river of digital services across the industry board including retail, music, entertainment, movies, mobile applications, storage and e-commerce.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has shown no hesitation to enter a new industry. That makes Amazon an exciting company to follow and, from a competitor’s standpoint, one to be afraid of.

Graphic compilation by Eric Zimmett

With the Amazon Kindle, Audible.com, Amazon mp3, the Amazon App Store, Amazon Instant Video with Amazon Prime, the recently announced Amazon Cloud Player, and, of course, Amazon.com itself, the company is becoming a go-to source for online shopping and entertainment.

Amazon Cloud

I’ve been testing out the Amazon Cloud since last week and, so far, I’m very impressed. A simple (and free) download is all that’s required to get started. Then just upload your media files. I’ve found the music storage alone to be well worth the download. The Cloud lets you access your music on any computer or any android device. So I was able to delete music files from my Droid, freeing up much needed space.

With the free version of the Amazon Cloud Drive and Player, you’ll get 5GB of free storage. For more, you’ll have to pay. Though right now I have 299 songs on my Cloud and I’m using only 1.3 GB of storage, 26% of the alloted 5 GB.

By the way, what is a “Cloud”? A Cloud is basically a hard drive in the sky, a hard drive on the internet that users can access from any computer, or compatible mobile device, with an internet connection without hauling anything around. In a way, your email service is like a cloud. Gmail serves as a cloud for your email by storing your messages on the web and thus being accessible from many devices with an internet connection.

The Cloud lets you store Music, Documents, Pictures and Videos. Whether it was purchased from Amazon or not. Here’s a breakdown of the additional storage plans, up to 1000 GB of space.

For more on the Amazon Cloud, click here.

Amazon Prime & Instant Video

Amazon Prime membership offers users on Amazon.com unlimited free two-day shipping for $79 per year, billed annually. That was until Amazon announced in February that Prime users would also have access to unlimited, commercial-free instant streaming of 5,000 movies and TV shows.

Amazon Instant Video offers little differentiation from Netflix with a smaller library but the bonus of free two-day shipping. Though Amazon claims 5,000 titles are available, I’m only able to see around 3,000 titles including TV and movies. I’ll keep checking on this.

Free shipping and a library of videos to stream instantly to your computer or TV for about $7 per month is a solid deal, especially for frequent amazon.com shoppers. Price compares to Netflix, though Big Red is billed monthly. Netflix offers an unlimited streaming plan (though no discs by mail) for $7.99 per month.

Audible.com

Your favorite books. On audio. I’ve tested this out, too, though I haven’t committed just yet. I enjoyed my free two-week trial period, downloaded a couple of audiobooks. The service also offers magazines, radio shows, podcasts, stand-up comedy and speeches.

How it works: Audible.com offers two plans: Gold and Platinum. With either subscription, you receive credits that can be used to purchase audiobooks or other audio content. Both plans have a monthly and annual option.

Audio files purchased from Audible.com can be accessed from your computer, burnt to a CD, played with the Audible.com app, as well as iPod and more than 500 other devices per Audible.com. For a list of compatible devices, click here (you may have to navigate to the “comaptible devices” window).

Living Social & Woot

In December of 2010, Amazon made a $175 million investment in local-deals site LivingSocial. The service operates much in the same way as Groupon, offering heavily discounted items and services.

“To be the biggest player in the local commerce space there is no one better to work with than Amazon,” LivingSocial CEO Tim O’Shaughnessy said in a statement on the company’s website, announcing the investment. “As the social shopping space continues to heat up, LivingSocial is committed to staying focused on providing the high level of quality that consumers and merchants have come to expect when working with us.”

LivingSocial does things a little differently, however. Whereas Groupon requires a specific number of people to buy a deal for it to be valid, LivingSocial makes it easy. Buy the deal and it’s yours.

But LivingSocial adds another layer to the daily deal. Once you buy a deal on LivingSocial, you’ll receive a unique, sharable link. Your deal becomes free when three people buy the deal from your unique link, giving you extra incentive to share the deal. Both Groupon and LivingSocial offer mobile apps to get deals on the go.

Prior to its investment in LivingSocial, in June of 2010, Amazon acquired deal-a-day site Woot. Woot Services, LLC is actually a bunch of sites under one wootbrella. There’s the main Woot.com, which operates like Groupon and LivingSocial, offering one deal a day from a variety of sources and services. But its sub-sites offer specific products, like T-Shirts on shirt.woot.com; or kids products on kids.woot.com; or wine on, you guessed it, wine.woot.com; and more.

Woot is a bit of an odd-ball deals site. Maybe Woot CEO Matt Rutledge give you a better idea of what Woot’s about, in a letter to his employees:

“We think now is the right time to join with Amazon because, quite simply, every company that becomes a subsidiary gets two free downloads until the end of July, and we very much need that new thing with Trent Reznor’s wife on our iPods,” Rutledge wrote in a letter to Woot employees on June 30, 2010.

“Other than that, we plan to continue to run Woot the way we have always run Woot – with a wall of ideas and a dartboard. From a practical point of view, it will be as if we are simply adding one person to the organizational hierarchy, except that one person will just happen to be a billion-dollar company that could buy and sell each and every one of you like you were office furniture.”

So that’s Woot for you, a site that’s 50% humor and entertainment and 50% great deals. It’s worth a look. If nothing else, you can buy a Woot Shirt.

LoveFilm

LoveFilm is a British subsidiary of Amazon.com offering movie and video-game rentals by mail (or should I say ‘by post’?) and online streaming of movies in the UK, Germany and Scandinavia with a library of more than 70,000 titles. Founded in 2002, LoveFilm is essentially Britain’s Netflix. (Netflix was founded in 1997 and serves the U.S. and Canada.) LoveFilm streams content through a computer, through the Playstation 3 video-game system, or Internet-connected Sony or Samsung TVs, much like Netflix. Build your queue, get your movies, return when you like with no late fees or watch instantly online. My free trial was denied because of the whole distance thing. Don’t think I’d qualify for ‘free first-class post.’

What LoveFilm offers:

  • DVD and Blu-ray by mail
  • Streaming instantly to your PC, PS3 or Internet-connected TV
  • On-Demand content (pay-per-view)

Sound familiar? Besides the obvious Netflix similarities, it’s essentially what Amazon just rolled out as a bonus to its Amazon Prime membership. Minus the discs by mail. But, hey, I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon started renting discs by mail. What better a way to make money from older movies nobody wants to buy from Amazon.com? Rent them through Amazon.com.

Amazon has had ownership stake of LoveFilm since 2008, but it wasn’t until January of this year that Amazon took full control of the company. And in February, Amazon announced its Amazon Prime members would have access to Instant Video content, streamed to their PC or a number of TV-connected devices.

Could LoveFilm set up shop in the U.S.? Former LoveFilm COO William Reeve thought it could compete with Netflix, but reportedly didn’t receive the backing from LoveFilm venture capitalists. Reeve left LoveFilm in 2008, before Amazon was a part of the plan. Now that Amazon’s in full control, would it bring LoveFilm over and risk competing with, well, itself?

What’s next?

Amazon is claiming stake in every conceivable digital media category. Including rumors within the last two days of an NFC-based mobile payment service. (NFC stands for Near Field Communication, a short-rage wireless service that allows NFC-equipped cell phones to pay for items at brick-and-motor stores without a debit or credit card, just using a phone.) The NFC tech talk is just another way Amazon is moving with technology and moving in on competitors. Smart business strategy by CEO Jeff Bezos.

I’d watch for more acquisitions. Amazon’s made a habit of acquiring companies and rolling them into Amazon’s umbrella of services.

Amazon reported net sales of more than $34 billion in 2010 (up from 24.51 in 2009) and net income of $1.15 billion. International sales, representing Amazon’s UK, German, Japanese, French, Chinese and Italian services were $5.74 billion, according to the company’s financial statements, up 26% from fourth quarter 2009.

Two sectors where I predict growth for Amazon in 2011: Social Networking and Instant Video.

SOCIAL NETWORKING

Just putting pieces of this Amazonian puzzle together: Amazon Prime members, Audible.com, Mobile, Instant Video and a growing list of services. Watch for Amazon to roll out a social network of sorts, not a Facebook competitor by any means maybe just a mobile or TV hub that connects all Amazon members (and its subsidiaries). You’d be able to see what your friends are watching instantly, or what items they’ve rated on Amazon.com, What they’re listening to from Audible.com (opt-in, of course).

In 1998, Amazon acquired PlanetAll, which was one of the first online attempts at social networking. PlanetAll connected users with classmates and colleagues as well as providing calendars, address books and groups all in one service. Amazon shut it down in 2000, however, and absorbed part of the PlanetAll service into its Friends and Favorites area where customers can set up ‘wish lists’ and share them with friends. But Amazon got the social-networking fever again in 2008 and filed another patent for a “social networking service.”

In June of 2010, The United States Patent and Trademark Office awarded Amazon with a patent for a social networking system, the one it filed for in 2008. I don’t see them sticking with the PlanetAll title if it’s re-introduced. I imagine they’ll roll it into the Amazon name and connect it with all of Amazon’s services and subsidiaries. The trademark office lists the Inventors of this patent as Brian Robertson and Warren Adams, the founders of PlanetAll.

The verbiage from The United States Patent and Trademark Office, Patent No. 7,739,139

Social networking system
A networked computer system provides various services for assisting users in locating, and establishing contact relationships with, other users. For example, in one embodiment, users can identify other users based on their affiliations with particular schools or other organizations. The system also provides a mechanism for a user to selectively establish contact relationships or connections with other users, and to grant permissions for such other users to view personal information of the user. The system may also include features for enabling users to identify contacts of their respective contacts. In addition, the system may automatically notify users of personal information updates made by their respective contacts.

Instant Video

I’d watch for Amazon Instant Video to bulk up its offerings. I’m going to keep an eye on LoveFilm. LoveFilm is similar to Netflix in operation, pricing and even layout and iconic red packaging. With one key difference. In LoveFilm’s £14.99 plan (about $24), the service offers unlimited Movies, TV and Video Games by mail. A comparison here would be pairing Gamefly with Netflix. I’d love for Amazon to incorporate this into its Amazon Prime membership, as part of new tiered membership options.

One final prediction: How about Amazon selling streaming devices, possibly through acquiring a company that makes them? Amazon could then sell the box at a discount with an Amazon Prime membership or even give it away with an annual membership to Amazon Prime.

If Amazon’s history is any indication of its future, watch for the company to continue expanding its services, moving into new industries and increasing its user base.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has shown no hesitation to enter a new industry. That makes Amazon an exciting company to follow and, from a competitor’s standpoint, one to be afraid of.

Sources: Amazon.com, United States Patent and Trademark Office, TechFlash, Mashable, LoveFilm, Reuters, cnet, Realdeals.eu.com, Audible.com, LivingSocial.com, Woot.com