iTunes music streaming has been rumored for a long while, but has never actually surfaced... But if you read between the lines of two pieces of news at the moment, it seems the time is finally ripe.
Apple settles record industry nerves
We think, from previous inside information leaks, that one of the big hold-ups to a streaming iTunes music service was the recording industry—it had been caught on the hop when Apple revolutionized the digital music industry and then stole control of huge chunks of the business right out from under the feet of those who thought they were in charge. Nervous about ceding more control of the next-gen in digital music services (streaming content from cloud-based systems) the recording industry is now wary. This is also partly why Spotify is having difficulty accessing the U.S. market.
Now, according to the Financial Times, Apple has successfully mollified the music industry enough about its plans that it can begin to put them in place. The trick was to highlight the business model in a particular way: The recording executives had been concerned that what Apple was planning to do was offer a "second download" channel to each track that Apple offers to its users—one via iTunes traditional download to user's PCs (and then to their iPods) and one via the cloud, enabling users to listen to their music even when it's not been synced to their iPod. This, the record execs thought, should enable them to charge for another royalty fee.
Apple's apparently convinced them the model is slightly different: The music stored in the cloud will in fact be a "back-up" of tracks that consumers have already bought—and which they can then be downloaded to devices at the user's whim. The cloud storage would act as "insurance" for people who risk losing their music archive in a catastrophic PC crash.
It's a technicality, and all but requires Apple to store each track in its archive many millions of times over, yet it may have done the trick with the recording executives.
Apple's North Carolina data center turning on soon, MobileMe revamped, iPhone Mini
Apple surprised many people a few years back when it bought a huge tract of land in North Carolina and built what some think of as a enormous, revolutionary-designed digital data center. Since its construction, we've even learned Apple may be planning on expanding it...which is odd because it seems Apple's barely actually used the center at all.
At the shareholders meeting this week, however, Apple let slip that the facility had suffered some "delays" but would actually enter service in the "Spring," and that it would be used to support both iTunes and MobileMe.
When you consider that MobileMe is apparently about to be revamped into a free access service, and that it already acts as a social sharing facility and digital back-up service (and security system) of sorts for iPhones, iPads and Mac user's data, it's highly plausible to see Apple adding in an "iTunes backup" extra to the facility—possibly charging a fee for file storage capacity over a certain size.
This would create a new subscriptions service, something companies love as it guarantees regular income, add value to MobileMe, reassure purchasers of digital music that they'll never lose their tunes, and act as a de-facto streaming music facility. This is another added-value system that users would be attracted to, as it reduces the hassle of grabbing the tracks you desire and syncing them to your iPhone and iPad. When you remember the rumors about the iPhone "mini" or iPhone "lite," which would see a cheaper lower-power phone on sale for less due to its cheaper innards—with big savings made in reducing the internal storage capacity—it makes even more sense.
iTunes Streaming imminent
The practical interpretation of all of this: iTunes streaming will arrive soon, disguised as a digital "locker" or back-up service, possibly even timed to match the new iPad announcement on March 2nd (and corresponding to rumors about the demise of paid MobileMe systems).
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