iCloud: What it means for your music

Owen Smith on what Apple's iCloud service means for your music.

14.06.11

Words by: Charlie Jones

Only Dummy readers living under a proverbial rock could have failed to have caught the announcement of Apple’s new ‘i’ monikered software, iCloud. Promising to reinvent the way people store data, one of the core features of iCloud is the revamp to Apple’s music offering, which re-imagines how users will acquire and consume music in the future.

The central idea behind iCloud is that data no longer needs to be stored on your hard drive, but can be stored ‘in the cloud’ – ie: a data storage centre somewhere – and accessed wirelessly across multiple devices at any time. Google and Amazon, amongst other companies, have similar cloud offerings already, but Apple’s approach to cloud storage is to have everything automatically happen in the background without manual syncing, with the aim being that it will simplify the experience for non-technical users.

The music side of iCloud will still be centered around iTunes, with 5GB of free cloud storage provided for every user, allowing them to upload a nice chunk of files for access across their devices. The key development, though, is iTunes Match, which is the premium, paid-for component and a distinct offering to competing companies. Match only uploads the music that iTunes’ 18-million song library doesn’t already contain. This means that users won’t have to spent hours uploading their entire catalogue of files, as they do with Amazon and Google’s offerings. In addition, Match users get the quality of all songs, including those downloaded illegally, upgraded to 256-Kbps – again, as long as they are already available in the iTunes store. This model generates revenue for rights holders from the vast amounts of pirated content in iTunes libraries by charging users for the consumption experience (the storage service / iTunes match software), in addition to the existing acquisition model (iTunes will still charge to download individual tracks / albums from the store).

Though all of this sounds wonderful, it seems like an unfinished pitch. Buying a digital track and even owning content could soon be as antiquated as floppy disks.

For the Match service users will fork out $24.99 a year (which will probably convert close to £20), which is split between Apple (30%) and the labels and publishers (70%). It’ll be launched in the US first, with the UK looking at a 2012 launch, with UK rights society PRS (who collect money of behalf of artists) recently announcing that they are a “long way off from any deals being signed [with Apple]”. If users stop paying the fee they’ll still be able to access all of the music they’ve paid for via iTunes across devices, but the rest of their library (which, I’d imagine, will generally be pirated material and free downloads) will revert back to being available only on the device that it’s stored on.

Though all of this sounds wonderful, it seems like an unfinished pitch. Buying a digital track and even owning content could soon be as antiquated as floppy disks. Steve Jobs has even previously mocked Google’s cloud offering for forcing users to spend hours uploading their music libraries. With Match they don’t need to do upload thousands of songs if iTunes already sells them, but it still relies of the concept of ownership, whether that track was ripped from a cd, or legally/illegally downloaded in the first place. Streaming services like Spotify negate the need for having a huge amount of music files, instead allowing access to a much larger centralised library of songs both online and offline. As wireless access improves paying for streaming access makes more and more sense and it seems inevitable that it’s a model that will eventually become the de facto experience for listening to music, particular given that most fans already stream music on a daily basis via blogs, Youtube, Soundcloud or what have you.

Need to know:

  • iTunes Match and iCloud will work on Windows Vista, 7, Mac OSX and Android.
  • 5GB storage of free music storage in the cloud.
  • Wireless syncing across PC, tablet and mobile.
  • iTunes Match will cost $24.99 a year, probably close to £20 in the UK.
  • 25,000 tracks max allowance for the upgrade in quality
  • Not expected in the UK until the first quarter of 2012

iCloud will be available in Autumn (“Fall”) in America, worldwide next year.