Amazon MP3

By now you must already know that Amazon has launched its MP3 download service to contend with the likes of iTunes. This has been a much anticipated move by Amazon, who is looking forward to displace iTunes from its leadership position.

So what would Amazon do to take on the goliath (iTunes)? Build the Earths Biggest Selection of a la Carte DRM-Free MP3 Music Downloads. With this selection they plan to offer cheaper, DRM free high quality music (256 kbps) to its users. The beta service boasts over 2 Million DRM free songs as part of their portfolio. These songs are available for direct high quality MP3 downloads, which allows them to compatible with “Any” device in the market.

Now, I am not going to review this service again for you. I am sure you can read Om Malik’s or Paul Stamatiou’s great posts or play with the service yourself. Although I am taking a critical look at the service as a consumer to see if it convinces me to move away from iTunes. So the intent here is to use the service as a user would and offer my verdict.

Amazon Storefront

Note: I must tell you that I have a 60 GB iPod and I use iTunes to manage my music on my MacBook. I use iTunes to buy new music (around once a month) and subscribe to podcasts. I use my MacBook to primarily store my music and use it or my iPod for playback. I am also an Amazon user and frequently buy products from their site.

So here is the sequence of events of my experience with the service:

Note: I am going to ignore registration and setup steps as they tend to be tedious for any service.

  1. Accessed the Amazon service page to discover songs
    • As expected, they have an excellent catalog. One can expect this from them given they are one of the lead e-tailers.
  2. After browsing the catalog I decided to check out Stronger by Kanye West, which led me to the page dedicated for the song. I can preview (or pre-listen) the song here before purchasing. This page also offers ratings and reviews, just like any other Amazon product.
  3. I clicked on the “Buy with 1 Click” button to purchase the song. This launches the Amazon MP3 downloader, which I had already installed while registering for the service.
  4. Amazon Downloader

    The Amazon app continued to download the song and notified me when complete

    • Now it gets a bit frustrating here as the app does nothing else but download the song. It simply has an option to show the MP3 file on disk when the process is complete.
    • However in order for me to enjoy it, I must get this song to my iPod. The process continues…
  5. So I proceed to launch the iTunes application
  6. I use the import feature to find, choose and import the song into my library, which is done in seconds as the song is already on my laptop.
  7. Finally I plug in my iPod to sync the song, which I can finally start enjoying.
    • By the way I have an email in my inbox from Amazon confirming the purchase of the song

So that took me around 7 steps to get “one” song to my iPod (even with all the optimizations). Now one would have to repeat these steps every time you want to purchase a song, unless you buy in bulk. Bear in mind I did not factor in any setup and registration steps. In comparison let’ s look at the iTunes experience.

iTunes

  1. Start iTunes
  2. Select song (not factoring in the search aspect)
  3. Buy song, and I am done!!

In three simple steps I am done buying the song and syncing to my iPod. Well you must be guessing as where I am going with this, so I will get to the point. I would much rather pay $0.99 for a song on iTunes than going through the current Amazon user experience. Frankly DRM or not doesn’t really matter as I am not big into sharing my music to each and every one in my buddy list. Also the “any” device pitch doesn’t work for me (and most of you) as I use my iPod and my laptop for managing and listening to music.

Thumbs Down

So all in all, I am willing to take the $0.10 hit just for the “convenience factor”. As a typical music consumer using iPod my verdict would be a “Thumbs down”.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not bashing Amazon or being a Apple fanboy. Believe me, I am anything but an Apple fanboy and anything but a Amazon hater. My discontent with Amazon is purely based on the user experience they have enabled. Frankly I am impressed with their capability to bring cheap DRM free songs to the market. However they need to address the user experience before they can win me over as a consumer.

The ideal user experience would be as follows:

  • Amazon allows users to configure the music player or portable device
    • I can use this to configure iTunes/iPod as my default system
  • Once I click buy button on their website, it simply downloads the song to my iTunes, which automagically syncs it to my iPod
  • Alternatively they could write a plugin, which directly places the song on my iPod. Even an iTunes extension would be great

Once the device type is configured, this truly becomes a 1 step process. Now I know for a fact that this is possible. Lala does it today. Infact they can download directly to your iPod, which is pretty cool. Amazon can start with supporting this flow for all iPod users in the beginning and eventually expand to other devices. This strategy will deliver a sure blow to Apple as there wont be many reasons for users to stick with iTunes for purchasing music anymore.

So in conclusion, I hope Amazon can make these changes to truly take the leadership position in the market. Until then I will continue to use iTunes, unless the record label is Universal.