The streaming cloud future

Over the past few years, streaming media has become standard.  Smartphones and tablets all have the capability to play content over a data connection. Apps like YouTube, Spotify, and Netflix offer streaming content to various devices. The issue is that they all require a persistent internet connection to work. Take away the internet connection and they are useless.

First party services like Google Play and iTunes work on and offline, bridging the necessity of a constant connection. Google Play allows both online streaming or downloading media locally. iTunes focuses on local storage and only offers a streaming option using iTunes Match and Apple TV.

More companies are focusing their efforts on the cloud. Even hardware like Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook HD are devices that are portals to their company’s cloud services.

With the prevalence of mobile data and speedy Wi-fi, is local storage necessary with the push towards cloud-based storage and streaming?

Music

Google Play Music and iTunes Match changed the way people access their music libraries. Google Play Music gives you the option of downloading songs to a device, but you can also just stream music. So if you’re looking for an option to stream your own collection, Google Play Music is the only first party option.

While Google Play Music offers streaming music service on Android devices and web browsers, iTunes Match allows streaming only over Apple TV.  iOS devices download the song to the device, but allows users to access their library stored in the cloud. It’s a misstep by Apple to not offer streaming music, but it’s something they could include in updates to iOS.

There are third party apps like Audiogalaxy that streams locally stored content, but it isn’t cloud-based like Google Play Music.

Streaming music services like Spotify, Rdio, and Pandora offer subscription-based music streaming, with algorithms that “learn” your musical tastes. These services offer a lot for listeners who enjoy a lot of different genres, but is limited to music that the companies can license.

Generally, you will find the majority of the music you would want, but some may find specific genres missing. These services cater to people who enjoy popular music and most subscribers will find no fault with them. All three services allow you to purchase songs to own, adding an extra cost to your subscription, but when you are already invested in the ecosystem it’s probably not something customers think about.

Music is the first place where cloud streaming is becoming standard. Streaming content stored on your computer to other devices is losing popularity while streaming music services are gaining a lot of interest because of their huge libraries. Each streaming service offers something a little different, but for people who enjoy streaming locally stored music collections, there aren’t many options anymore.

Movies and TV

Netflix‘s ecosystem is perfect for the TV or movie watcher. Offering a massive amount of content, Netflix is all you need for streaming video content. The only drawback is the delay which new releases get added. It’s a great place to catch up on movies or shows that you’ve missed, but it’s rare to see the newest releases available from day one. Since it’s available for a wide array of devices, you won’t have trouble watching anywhere.

Google Play Movies & TV offers the same service as Google Play Music but for video content. Users can stream or download purchased content locally. With a similar content library as iTunes, Google Play’s ability to stream and download makes more sense with current data limitations.  Both services offer up-to-date video content with many releases where the digital copy is available before the physical release.

Amazon’s Instant Video is another streaming service for videos online and on the iPad. The Kindle Fire is the only device that you can download videos purchased though Amazon locally. The iPad app supports streaming only while Android devices don’t have an Instant Video app.

iTunes doesn’t have the same option to stream content so you’ll have to download all content to a device before viewing. It’s nice when you don’t have a data connection, but you could be taking precious space on a device.

Video content is evolving at an increased pace with streaming media the main point of growth. With the goal of installations across multiple platforms, each company is working on expanding their digital libraries. While Netflix offers the most amount of video content for the price, new deals like early releases before physical media may help the growth of digital-only content.

Books

The ability to read content over multiple devices synced through the cloud makes it easy to pick up reading on different devices. E-books are generating huge sales numbers and magazines are trying to accomplish the same wide-spread adoption by experimenting with different price points. It won’t be long until the majority of “print” media will be consumed on digital devices.

Amazon’s Kindle app is available on both iOS and Android and the Kindle e-reader is a low-cost entry device catering to Amazon’s customers. Barnes & Noble’s Nook is another device attempting cater to the e-book market, but the their heavily customized Android operating system lacks maturity.

Google and Apple offer their own e-book ecosystems, but Amazon is still the leader in digital print and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change. E-book pricing is still an issue and the main obstacle for greater growth. The e-book ecosystem is the one that is experimenting with authors self-publishing their work and big companies trying new schemes to sell their books outside of brick-and-mortar businesses. It’s already become popular, but hasn’t reached its peak yet.

The future is (almost) now

Streaming media is evolving very quickly with companies experimenting with what the general consumer wants. Music streaming will probably become the primary way consumers digest music, supported by subscription and single song sales. Fragmentation of services will lead to more specific genres of music that cater to different listeners. The one-stop shop of current providers won’t be able to offer all the content that all users are looking for.

A major limitation of the adoption of cloud-based systems is the lack of widespread stable and fast data connections.  Streaming , especially HD video, is excellent with stable networks, but when you have data caps and slower connections streaming isn’t a good option.  HD video or high quality audio consumes a lot of data and with many providers placing limits, it’s getting difficult to always watch in high definition.  Downloading content to local devices may be your only option until networks are able to strengthen and upgrade their services.

Anyone with a smartphone and tablet is already entrenched in streaming content and it’s up to you how much you consume. Tablet owners are in a similar, yet different place because of how content is presented. Whether you enjoy walking around with all your content on a device or only streaming content, you have choices. The move towards all devices supporting content in the cloud will eventually become the standard.

What we’re in right now is the transitional period from local storage to primarily the cloud.

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