Music Spotlight Special Series: Amazon vs. Apple For Digital Music, The Wrap-Up

October 15, 2012
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If you’ve been following this special series on Amazon vs. Apple for digital music, you’ve compared iTunes to the Amazon MP3 Store, you’ve seen the differences between Amazon’s and Apple’s Digital Music Library Management options, you’ve taken a closer look at each vendor’s digital music file functionality, and you’ve compared the devices you can use with each vendor’s digital music. Today the series concludes with a top-level review of the points from this series most consumers will likely find most critical when comparing Amazon to Apple for digital music.

Music Store

iTunes is the preferred option here if your top priority is always having an up-to-the-minute snapshot of what’s hip, happening, and topping the Billboard charts at any given time, and you’re not price-sensitive. iTunes features you won’t find in Amazon’s store are critical reviews, user and celebrity playlists, and a large library of music videos available for purchase.

Amazon is the better choice if you’re looking for a digital music shopping experience that mimics the experience of shopping in a brick-and-mortar music store. Amazon’s prices are lower than iTunes’ most of the time, and Amazon is always running a number of sales and special promotions, which are highlighted on the site and very easy to find. Amazon also has a HUGE catalog of free digital music available at any given time: thousands of songs and hundreds of albums. Again, Amazon makes these free items very easy to find and browse. Finally, Amazon’s advanced search blows away iTunes. Where Amazon allows you to search by Artist, Title, keywords, category and even record label,  iTunes’ “power search” only includes fields for Artist and Title.

Digital Music Library Management

Amazon’s Cloud Player and Apple’s iTunes work more or less the same and look very similar too, but iTunes has a bit more functionality.

First, iTunes has its Genius feature, which can automatically generate playlists of complementary tracks when you select one track from your library to start the playlist. Second, iTunes has a much more complex and flexible system for truly “curating” your music, rather than simply storing, grouping and accessing it. iTunes has many more fields that the system or user can populate for each track in her library (e.g., rating, comments, lyrics, play count, grouping, etc.), and those fields can then be used for advanced grouping, sorting, and in the generation of Genius playlists. However, most consumers don’t use the majority of these fields, so they may not be that important to you.

Amazon and iTunes both offer a cloud storage solution for music, both of which will store your entire music library in their respective cloud servers at a (current) price of $24.99 per year and both of which will allow you to either upload your non-Amazon/Apple purchases or have them matched to Amazon/Apple copies of the same tracks.

Music File Functionality

The main difference here is that where Amazon’s Cloud Player Premium service offers true streaming access to your digital music over a wifi or 3G/4G connection, Apple’s iCloud + iTunes Match will only allow streaming when you’re within range of your home network, and only on its “AirPlay” compatible devices. When you’re away from your home network you can access a listing of your Apple/iCloud digital music library across a wifi or 3G/4G connection, but anything you want to listen to that’s not already on your device will have to be downloaded from iCloud first.

The other noteworthy difference is that where Amazon’s digital music files are offered in MP3 format, Apple’s are in AAC format. Neither vendor attaches DRM to the files (Apple began phasing out DRM on its music files in 2009), but since MP3 is the more open format and the format that’s been around the longest, it’s the most reliably compatible with the majority of devices. Non-Apple devices manufactured prior to 2010 may not be able to play AAC files at all.

Devices

Users who are happy with their Apple touchscreen, portable devices that can play digital music don’t have to give up those devices to switch to Amazon’s music store and Cloud Player: Amazon’s Cloud Player app is available in the iTunes store, and it’s free. As for those who are looking to slip the Apple chains…

Thanks to the very well-reviewed Samsung Galaxy 5 Android Media Player, Apple is no longer the only—nor even necessarily best—game in town for portable digital music players. If you compare the Samsung to the latest generation iPod Touch, you’ll find the Samsung has some key advantages in the form of an SD card slot for memory expansion, a pricetag that’s half of what you’d pay for the iPod Touch (or even less, if you opt for a smaller screen on the Samsung), and the more open, Android platform for running apps. While the iPod touch offers HD video recording and the Samsung does not, if your main use of the device will be for playing music and other media and running apps, you won’t really miss the video recorder aspect. The Samsung does have the same video chat and still photo capabilities of the iPod Touch (though via non-Apple apps).

 

Bottom Line: Apple Is Still The Better Choice For True Music Curation, Amazon’s Better For The Rest of Us

As I stated in an earlier post in this series:

Recall that when the iPod and iTunes first came on the scene, they were entirely geared to tech-savvy (or at least, not tech-fearful) audiophile hipsters with enough disposable income to afford them.  This was a largely youthful and fairly limited market sector at the time. While there are plenty more people willing to spend the money and get the tech know-how to use iTunes and its associated devices now, it seems the youthful/audiophile hipster part of the equation has never changed for Apple.

There’s no doubt that Apple’s digital music devices and services are more slick, hip and youth-oriented than Amazon’s, nor that Apple’s the better choice for music fanatics who want maximum flexibility and options for labeling, grouping, sorting and otherwise curating their digital music libraries, and who favor a store slanted in favor of what’s currently hot and happening in music.

For music fans who don’t care enough about Apple’s music curation features or status-symbol devices to pay a premium for them, Amazon has some distinct advantages. Amazon offers true streaming capability away from a home network, generally lower music prices, a more browsing-friendly shopping experience with numerous virtual sale “racks”, better advanced search capabilities in the music store, and a very large catalog of free digital music.
We here at Kindle Fire on Kindle Nation Daily hope you’ve enjoyed this special series, and now feel you’re armed with all the details you need to make an informed decision when it comes to your preferred vendor for digital music.

 

One Response to Music Spotlight Special Series: Amazon vs. Apple For Digital Music, The Wrap-Up

  1. Eric J. Krause on October 15, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but I’ve found Amazon’s MP3s are bigger files than what I get from iTunes. I immediately burn my Apple purchases to a disc and then turn them into MP3s, and they are a few MBs smaller than the MP3s I get on Amazon. When loading music on some of my smaller capacity MP3 players, this adds up. So unless I’m just overlooking something simple, I’m going to stick with Apple and iTunes – unless Amazon has a really good sale. wink

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