Early Monday at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Apple introduced the iCloud, a music service that allows users to listen to their music from virtually any internet-connected device. Rather than streaming, the service offers access to songs via a cloud-based storage not unlike Amazon's Cloud Drive. Uploads to the cloud won't be necessary, however, if the songs are already available in the iTunes store.
To take full advantage of the iCloud service, users will also need to upgrade to the company's latest upgrade, called iTunes Match. At an annual cost of $24.99 (what, you thought progress was free?), the service will scan their iTunes library and make their songs available on any Apple device. Songs that aren't included in the company's 18-million track store will have to be uploaded from user's' hard drives for widespread listening. And remember, the operative word isn't streaming. It's a cloud connection, baby.
Apple's website says iTunes Match offers "all the benefits of iTunes in the Cloud." An initial 5GB of storage will be offered to iCloud users for free when they sign up for the program (which replaces the previous MobileMe service, which allowed users to store data and access email, calendar and contacts via a cloud). Subscribers to iCloud will have their photos and documents all backed up wirelessly and automatically. Purchased music, apps and E-books will not count toward the allotted storage.
Safeguarding themselves against potentially litigious complication, Apple negotiated contracts with the four major record labels before introducing their service. A portion of the money subscribers pay to Apple will be funneled to labels, musicians and publishers based on the frequency of play. It sounds rosy, but it's not exactly the solution to the music industry's woes. No specific details were made available regarding the compensation breakdown between labels and artists, however – which nearly every time means those creating the material get crumbs at best.
Cloud doesn’t fully launch until iOS 5 arrives this fall, but you can check out some features right now. Apple has pushed out updates to the iOS 4.3 App Store, iBooks and iTunes apps that let you check out your purchase history, and setup Automatic Downloads.
Many are likely to feel a bit of hesitation at the idea of synchronizing and effectively replacing a potential majority of their music libraries with "the system," given that iTunes Match plans to scan the data and match it with the copy available on iTunes, and "upgrade" the quality to 256 kps AAC for listening on devices. As the future roars ever louder while rising around us and Kurzweil's Singularity draws closer yet, we're being increasingly faced with tiny decisions and upgrades in our existing tech that seem fantastically futuristic. They're exciting, new developments that push us closer to the Jetsons future, but will leave us as helpless as naked babies in the jungle if there's ever a power failure. If the sun decides to blast a massive solar burp and wipe out this dirt road of a global electronic grid we've laid down, then what?