There’s something strange about this year’s WWDC: we already know what’s coming. Last week, Apple sent out a press release detailing what will be covered by Steve Jobs in his keynote on Monday. As expected, we are going to take our first look at iOS 5, learn more about Mac OS X Lion, and see what Apple has up its sleeve for its new cloud service, iCloud.
One of iCloud’s main features will be the ability to stream music to iOS devices from the cloud without any of the music having to be stored locally on the device. Of course, this has already been done by both Google and Amazon with Google releasing it’s Music service, and Amazon allowing users to store songs purchased on the Amazon MP3 store for free, enabling them to stream tracks from the web and to their Android phones. How these services differ from Apple’s, however, will be the key selling point of iCloud not only to consumers but to the record companies as well.
Neither Amazon nor Google have approached the record companies to make deals for their cloud music services; they’ve simply launched the service and allowed users to take advantage of it straight away without an additional fee going to the record companies. This sounds great at first, I mean, don’t these companies get enough of our money when we buy music through them anyway? Maybe they do, but if you’re lucky enough to be in the US and have access to Google Music, you will have to upload every single one of the music tracks that you own and want to stream.
Do you happen to have a 250GB music library? Have fun uploading that and breaching every fair use policy your ISP every dreamed of restricting you to. Unless you’re on a ridiculously fast connection you may want to make sure your computer stays on for a good few days as well, because that music ain’t going to upload itself!
Amazon’s service – also only available in the US for now – handles things a little better if you’re on a tight lead with bandwidth restrictions. Every time you make a purchase on Amazon MP3, the track or album that you purchase is made available for you in your Cloud Drive. If you have any other MP3 tracks that you wish to upload, you can add these to your Cloud Drive and they will become available for you in Cloud Player too. The problem here, though, is that Cloud Player is accessed predominantly through a web browser, which is great when you’re sat at home, but not so great when you’re out and about and want to stream that music to your iPhone, when you need it the most.
So what’s Apple’s solution, then? At present, the exact details are unknown, but it has been revealed that Apple has paid record companies up to $150 million for the rights to stream their music. So what’s the difference? Why pay record companies so much money when you can go down the road that both Google and Amazon have gone down? In a nutshell: accessibility.
A lot of people buy their music in iTunes, but a lot of people – myself included – also choose to rip their own CDs and download music from other stores and individual artists across the web. If Apple restricted iCloud’s music streaming to tracks purchased on iTunes, I would be able to stream a single Frank Sinatra album and a smattering of other various singles that I have downloaded from the store. In other words, it would be pretty worthless to me. Don’t get me wrong, Frank is a pretty swell guy, but you can only listen to one album for so long…
It makes a lot of sense, then, that Apple would want to extend this to people who have ripped their own CDs or pirated music and added it to iTunes. This is why the record companies are on board. Ever since Napster and LimeWire began to make music piracy socially acceptable, record companies have been looking for a way to make consumers pay for music again. If Apple launches iCloud and charges users, say, £70 a year for the service, then it is essentially taking tracks which have been pirated in the past and making users pay to access those tracks again, giving some of that revenue back to the record companies.
In my experience, most people have no issue paying for a service that is more convenient than what they are currently using. Apple will immediately undercut services such as Spotify, which charges £10 a month for mobile access to music streaming, and allow people to access their entire music library on the go through the native music app in iOS. Pair this up with an unlimited data plan from a carrier such as Three and you have a match made in heaven. Does this sound like a nicer solution than accessing Amazon’s website to check out your Cloud Player? It does to me.
Whatever Apple introduces on Monday I have little doubt that this plan will be in place for iCloud, and let’s face it: there’s a lot of room for improvement over their current MobileMe service. We will, of course, be covering the event as it happens on Monday at 6PM British time, so be sure to come back and check out all the news that unfolds from the event over the evening.
What are your thoughts on iCloud? Will you be taking advantage of it and accessing your music on the go without the need to sync your iPhone first? Let us know in the comments, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.