Amazon rolls out cloud music player, doesn't work on iOS devices

by Phil Hornshaw

Make no mistake: Amazon (AMZN) means to be a big contender in mobile.

It just bested its two big rivals -- Google (GOOG) and to a lesser extent, Apple (AAPL) -- by beating both companies to the punch with a “cloud” music service that allows users to upload their tracks to Amazon’s servers and play them anywhere with an Internet connection, all for free. Both Apple and Google supposedly have such services in the works, but Amazon has one today, complete with a player for devices running on Google’s Android operating system.

Meanwhile, if you’re sporting an iOS device, it seems the Amazon Cloud Player is rendered unusable: it doesn’t seem able to play in the conventional sense on Apple’s Mobile Safari browser, or any other browser yet supported by iOS devices.

That’s not an issue of Flash, either, according to TechCrunch. The Cloud Player only supports certain browsers -- Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer on PCs and Macs and mobile devices. On Android smart phones and tablets, the workaround is Amazon’s Cloud Player mobile app, but on iOS, one would have to use a mobile browser.

I double checked TechCrunch’s word on this, and it seems that, yes, Mobile Safari isn’t supported by Amazon Cloud Player. It’s not an issue of Flash support, since the Cloud Player only uses Flash for uploads, not for playback. I couldn’t get the player to function on alternative iOS mobile browsers like Skyfire (which does support some Flash), either

In essence, we iPhone and iPad owners are out of luck until Amazon deems to build us a workaround app or support additional browsers. Kind of brilliantly, that’s Amazon’s prerogative, and it gives the company the ability to dictate to us the terms of the deal -- namely, if Amazon doesn’t want us to play, we don’t get to play. Kind of ironic and fitting, given that Apple has pulled this exact trick on Amazon.

Amazon’s now in a position to charge iOS users for the privilege of using the Cloud Player that other users, specifically Android users, would get for free. It also bolsters what Amazon is trying to build with its Amazon Appstore, where it sells apps and competes directly with Google’s own Android Market. Both Google and Apple have no competing services (yet), and anyone who’s interested in using them is beholden to Amazon to do so. Amazon, therefore, gets to use the Cloud Player to drive traffic to its Appstore and to make some money off iOS users, if it so chooses, while building a reputation for the service and Amazon in general by handing it out for free.

But in the meantime, what’s a poor iOS user to do? Hate to say it, but the same thing we always do: wait for gifts to fall from the Apple tree. Rumor has it that cloud services are a big part of iOS 5, which will probably be detailed at Apple’s upcoming Worldwide Developers Conference in June in San Francisco, and released in the fall.

Apple is said to be holding back its own streaming cloud music service for one of perhaps several reasons. Hollywood types have leaked that Apple is hoping to integrate video into its streaming service, and that’s taking time to finagle both on technical and copyright fronts. Or, it could be related to the creation and implementation of the new $1 billion server farm Apple just built, which will supposedly be the infrastructure for its cloud services. We’ll just have to wait and see, as usual.

News of a workaround emerges

Oh, but while you’re waiting patiently, there is, apparently, a fumbling workaround to use the Amazon Cloud Player on an iOS device. Head over to Amazon.com on Mobile Safari, switch to the full site, and pull up the Cloud Player link. Hit “Continue” when Amazon warns that your browser isn’t supported and you’ll still be brought to your playlist (provided you’ve uploaded songs to the player -- that’s kind of important).

Once you’re there, tick off the songs you want and hit “Download.” Ignore Amazon’s promptings to use its proprietary downloader and the track will open in Mobile Safari’s media player instead. Bam -- cloud music support. It’s not ideal, but it’s something.