For years we were stuck with the then necessary burden of keeping all of our music stashed in a drawer or cupboard, plucking out the track we’ve just arrived at the mood for and slipped it onto whatever variety of player we happened to have. In fact, it was that way for over a hundred years before the invention of the MP3 player – and that changed everything. But, could we be on the verge of another drastic shift in the methods we use to deliver, store and access our music? There are pretty strong hints that Apple will soon join the ranks of companies offering cloud-based music services, which already includes the recent additions of Amazon and Google, as well as the longstanding services such as Grooveshark and Spotify. And now the strongest, most powerful gladiators have supposedly entered the arena, it’s about time we asked the question: is it actually what the consumer wants?
I’m pretty much on the fence on this one, but to me it seems that Google is on to something with their streaming service, which allows you to store up to 20,000 tracks – free for a limited time – in the cloud, and access them whenever, wherever you like. This way, you have the benefit of keeping your own tracks to yourself, and not having to rely on a single source such as, say, iTunes for collecting your music. Obviously we hope, and pray, and hope again just for good measure, that Apple doesn’t restrict its inevitable streaming service to purchases made through iTunes, from a business standpoint that would seem utterly ridiculous, but with Apple you never know the extremes they’ll go to to keep the customer locked in tight for good.
The other big question is file formats. We can all make a pretty accurate assumption that Apple will restrict its formats to those found in iTunes, and Google will hopefully stick to its own ethos and allow the more open platforms to thrive under its streaming service, but what I would like to know at this point, is whether it’ll remain restricted to lossy codecs such as the most common MP3 format, or whether the availability of streaming lossless formats will become an option, the most likely choice on Google’s platform would be FLAC, whilst on Apple’s it would most likely be its own proprietary format: ALAC. The issue with these formats, though, is bit rate and the subsequently inflated file size and then of course the inevitable drawback in such circumstances of bandwidth. The crux of all web-related problems (when Flash isn’t the instigator anyway) and it’ll be interesting to see whether the option is there. Personally, I’d be willing to pay a little extra for the option, but obviously being part of the core service would be preferable and beneficial for the company who adopts that approach.
So the question remains: is it really a good thing? Well, there are are a number of variables which will inevitably make it a clear matter of individual choice, but I get the feeling that this particular development will only be a resounding success if someone truly goes the whole hog and delivers an unreserved, unrestricted and altogether near-perfect solution. I can see the benefit of streaming music over the web to all devices from a single location, but Apple’s approach is more likely going to be the whole ‘if you haven’t got an iPhone, then you haven’t got an iPhone’ approach, and whilst in theory that is the single most frustrating aspect of buying into the Apple ecosystem, I also get the feeling that Apple, despite likely offering a technically inferior product to Google, will probably attract the most interest.
We’ll obviously have to wait and see, though, this might all come to be utter speculation void of an ounce of truth or integrity, but I’m relying on the likelihoods for this assessment, and we can only see it going one way once Apple gets involved. The others will obviously hold a piece of the pie, especially with Google having such an immense slice of the smartphone and eventually tablet market and Amazon being a fairly powerful force, but the inexorable march of Apple towards dominance will most likely be evident once again. Is this a good thing? Probably not, but the fact of the matter is: we won’t care, we’ll probably do it anyway irrespective of which provider we use.
Will you be using these cloud services in the future, or do you prefer to have your music stored locally instead? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.