According to the latest tech rumors Google is preparing to challenge Apple's iTunes service with a digital music store of its own, while the latter is supposedly looking to expand its MobileMe service with some music-related features. But today Amazon got the jump on both companies with the launch of an online service that would enable its customers to securely store and access music through their computers and Android smartphones.

As described by the online retailer: "Amazon Cloud Drive is your hard drive in the cloud. Store your music, videos, photos, and documents on Amazon's secure servers. All you need is a web browser to upload, download, and access your files from any computer." Users are given 5GB of free online storage -- enough space to store up to 1000 songs -- and new purchases from the Amazon MP3 store are stored for free and do not count toward customers' storage quota.

The free storage offering is upgradeable to 20GB with the purchase of any Amazon MP3 album, while Amazon also offers a number of paid storage options from 20GB up to 1TB at $1 per gigabyte.

The other component of Amazon's newest venture is Cloud Player, which will allow customers to search, organize, and play their music files from any computer running Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari for Mac, or Chrome. The player itself is intuitive and quick to load while the companion Android app lets you access your music on the go.

For now the service is available to U.S. customers only and it seems Amazon has gone ahead without all the labels' approval. In their view, the functionality of saving MP3s to Cloud Drive is the same as if a customer were to save their music to an external hard drive and thus no additional licensing is needed -- which sounds about right. Some music executives disagree, of course, but Amazon still decided to flip the switch and leave those pesky details for later.