Stephen Hackett shared his thoughts on the iTunes music cloud service the other day and I’ve gotta say, his best case scenario sounds pretty awesome:
If Apple called me up, and asked me what I would want out of a cloud music server, these would be the major points:
- Purchased music automatically being pushed to the cloud and my local library.
- Let me sync/cache songs from the cloud to my iOS devices on the go. Kill the USB cable, Apple.
- All music, regardless of origin, can be uploaded.
- 3G streaming on the go. Pandora, Rdio and others have this working. Hell, it even works via the Dropbox app .
A real pipe dream would be for this cloud service to sync selected media across my Macs, the web and my iOS devices. What a crazy world it would be if I could rip a CD on my iMac, let the sync app do its thing and then download those files on my MacBook Pro or iPad later.
Objectively, I think he is pretty close to a realistic scenario. I don’t think Apple would let us upload any music from any location to the cloud and then let us download that music onto multiple devices. Any service Apple launches is bound to be attached to your iTunes account and have some sort of device limit attached to it. Also, as evidenced by the offerings from Amazon and Google, a fully cloud based music library has some serious limitations and useability issues. Wireless speeds & reliability (both up & down stream) just aren’t there yet for most consumers, no to mention the huge data sucks using such cloud services might be.
I think Apple forsees not only the logistical problems they might face, but also all the issues a user’s might encounter. Ease of use seems to play an important role in the way Apple designs iOS software. I think there are too many potential potholes in an entirely cloud based service for Apple to pursue as described by Mr.Hackett. Again, look at what people are saying about what’s currently on the menu.
If iCloud rumors turn out to be about music, I think an acheivable scenario might be for Apple to introduce a streaming service over both Wi-Fi and 3G. Content you purchase from the iTunes store could be browsed and streamed over your devices, no uploading or downloading required. iTunes could just browse the index of purchases linked to your account and make them available to you. I could envision movies and TV shows also being available to stream, albeit only over Wi-Fi. A service like this would also pave the way for a subscription service, another popular rumor, allowing you access to a certain amount of music at some fixed rate. Subsciption models are definitely gaining traction and Apple is well positioned to make a move in that space.
A scenario like this makes most sense to me for three reasons:
1. It’s the simplest logistical solution, from Apple’s perspective..
2. A scenario such as this one is probably easiest to negotiate with the music labels.
3. It’s the easiest solution for the end-user. Just login with your iTunes account and the music can just appear in your iPod app. No worrying about space on your iPhone, upload times…
While I’d be happy with the scenario I’m describing, I’m starting to have doubts music is what Apple has in mind with iCloud. 1 What I’m begining to think iCloud will actually be is a develloper API, as proposed by John Gruber on episode 41 of The Talk Show. Gruber thinks this API wouldl allow developpers to build small data syncing into their apps so a user could have access to the same data over multiple devices. An obvious application would be to allow games like Plants & Animals to sync user progress over to someone who has purchased the game on multiple iPhones or iPads. There’s also a whole slew of apps that use Dropbox kung-fu for syncing that could benefit from such an API. Gruber uses iBook as an example in his article on the subject:
iBooks does this. If you pause while reading a book on your iPad, then resume reading on your iPhone, it picks up on the same page in the book. Kindle and a bunch of other e-reading services do this too. The point isn’t that iBooks is unique or ahead of the curve in this regard. It’s that you don’t need MobileMe for iBooks. It’s all handled by the iTunes Store itself. You buy books on your device, you read them on your device, and your history, bookmarks and other metadata all get synced to your iTunes account in the cloud. And it works great. But a lot more apps should work like this. Should wireless Safari bookmark syncing cost $99 a year? Shouldn’t it be easy for iOS game developers to sync progress for the same game across multiple devices using the same iTunes account? App Store developers shouldn’t have to rely on another third party — Dropbox — for this sort of functionality.
The more I think about it, the more it makes sense that this is what Apple has in store for us with iCloud. One way or another, WWDC is hopefully going to have some exciting surprises for us.
1. I’m sure we’ll see some cloud based iTunes solution too, I just don’t think it will happen first.