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A Cloud-Based iTunes May Not Be So Great

Before you get all excited about the possibility of Apple’s popular iTunes music service moving into the cloud space, have you considered the possible implications of just how much this is going to change the overall digital music landscape?

Ever since the news last week of Apple buying Lala, everyone and their brother seems to have immediately jumped to the conclusion that Apple is going to move its iTunes music store into cloud computing.  This seems like a pretty logical conclusion, but there are numerous questions that arise from such a move for Apple, and some of them could have a pretty profound impact on how you interact with your music collection.

applecloudssThe main question that everyone is asking is how much the service will cost.  Under Lala you could listen to a song once for free, and then you could pay $.10 for unlimited streaming of the tune from any Web connected computer.  While everyone seems to be assuming that Apple will follow this same path and remove the need to ever download iTunes to your computer again, or even the files, one has to ask what will happen to the tens of millions of older style iPods out there?

iPod Classics, iPod Nanos, iPod Shuffles even the now dead iPod Mini, are all built around synchronizing with your music collection which is located somewhere physically on your computer.  While everyone is saying, “Wow, we’ll free up all that hard drive space and never have to worry about having all those files on our system again!”, you have to wonder what those people will say the first time they go to refresh their iPod playlists.  Sorry folks, but not all of us are carrying iPhones which means we do not have constant Apple approved access to the Internet at all times.  Even iPod Touch owners have to be in range of Wi-Fi, and do you really think Apple is going to tell all those millions of non-iPhone customers that they are out of luck?  Doubtful.

One of the biggest questions that immediately leapt out to me was what would we do with our existing collections?  I have a collection of nearly 160 GBs of music; if there is no longer a desktop iTunes app as so many people are assuming, what would I do to access that music?  Lala used to allow you to “store” up to 5,000 songs on their site which was basically “we see you have this in your collection, we will let you stream it from us.”  Will Apple follow this idea or do I get to start all over?  I highly doubt that either of these will be the final solution.

stevejobsAlso, don’t forget, Apple is on target to sell $2 billion worth of music this year, and is now the number one music retailer in the country having surpassed Walmart last year.  Is Apple, as well as the record labels, going to allow that to go away for the ability to sell the rights to stream music for $.10 a song?  Again, another doubtful possibility.

One of the final questions I have is quite possibly the scariest of them all: Who will own this music?  Lets say Apple goes cloud only, and we pay for the right to stream a bunch of music.  Something changes at Apple, it decides this is a failed concept and it no longer wants to support it.  A switch is flipped, the Cloud iTunes is shut down and … you no longer have “your” music.  You have no backed up files, you have no access to what you paid for, you are left with essentially nothing.  Sure there would be lawsuits, but what would it matter?  You never owned the music, you merely had the “right” to listen to it.  And believe me, somewhere in that user license that you never read would be a clause where they could do this.

Basically it’s fun to think that we will no longer be tied to the desktop for all of our music, but I think the number one thing stopping this en masse move to the cloud for iTunes that has everyone going gaga is all of those legacy iPods.  Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, would be insane to go on stage in his signature black turtleneck and say, “We’ve moved everything into the cloud and you will no longer be able to sync music at all … thanks for the hundreds of millions of dollars you gave us!”

This simply is not going to happen.

There is every possibility that iTunes may move into the cloud, but if it does, I envision a hybrid between the desktop and the cloud, it is not going to be an all or nothing move.  The industry is just not ready for this.  Apple isn’t going to sacrifice the sales of music, iPod hardware and so on to squeeze you all for $.10 a song.  This is Apple, folks, it’s going to get as much money out of you as possible.


Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...

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