Apple to Unveil 'iCloud' Service Next Week
Getting answers out of Apple is like watching the TV series "Lost": Some questions get answered, others not, and new questions ultimately arise.
That's what comes to mind with the company's latest press release, in which it confirms that it will indeed unveil a service called iCloud at the Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday.
Questions answered: Yes, it did buy the iCloud.com name from Xcerion. Yes, Apple will be unveiling details about its cloud service offerings.
Questions unanswered: Will music be a part of those cloud-service offerings? When exactly will those cloud service offerings go live? How much will it cost?
For months, the tech press has been speculating that Apple plans to relaunch its MobileMe cloud services into something far broader than its current iteration, and that service is widely expected to include some kind of music streaming option. Apple reportedly has either signed deals or deals-in-principle with Warner Music Group and EMI, with deals close to completion with Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group.
What those deals cover is less clear. The most likely scenario is that Apple plans a music-locker service offering scan-and-match capabilities, meaning the service will simply scan a user's music library and match any songs it contains to a large database of music stored in the cloud, to then stream to any Internet-connected device.
Amazon and Google have both launched cloud music lockers without music industry licenses, which means users have to upload separate copies of their own music files to the cloud -- a far more time-consuming process for users and far more expensive operation for the providers.
A licensed locker service would also allow Apple to offer additional services than just access, such as music recommendations, Internet radio-like features and sharing.
Steve Jobs himself will be making the WWDC keynote, which Apple said will also include details on the Lion operating system, new software for the iPhone/iPad platform, and other items. Jobs typically likes to announce products and services that are immediately available, or with a very specific launch date in the near future.
Given the additional label licensing deals it needs to finalize, not to mention the publishing effort, the smart money is on Jobs unveiling the details of the cloud music service with an eye towards a future launch date.
Finally, there's the question of how much all this will cost. Google's locker is free, but in an invite-only beta mode. Amazon's charges a small yearly fee. Obviously, what Apple decides to charge will depend on what it ultimately offers. So stay tuned.