iTunes in The Cloud: Myth or Inevitability?

Apple tech blogs have been talking almost ceaselessly about Apple launching a cloud-based music streaming service. Given that they’re the top seller of music on the planet and largely responsible for the digital music revolution, you’d think that Apple would be the company most suited to take on such an endeavor.

So where is it? Is this another mini-iPhone incident where rumor sites are just leading us along without any solid leads that it’s actually going to find out? Let’s explore.

First, The Competition

Before we speculate on what Apple is working on, it’s appropriate to take a look at the companies who already have their system together and launched at least to the beta stage.

Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player

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Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player

The first big company to stake their claim in this market was Amazon. The Amazon Cloud Player gives every user 5GB of free space to upload their music. If you purchase an MP3 album from Amazon before December 31st of this year, you get upgraded to a 20GB account for the next year.

Apart from the upgrade deal, you’re looking at “a buck a gig” as your yearly hosting fee, with anywhere from 20-1,000GBs and up to 200,000 songs.

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Amazon Cloud Drive Pricing

One interesting aspect of the Amazon service is that any songs that you purchase from Amazon are hosted free and won’t affect your upload limit. This is a pretty sweet deal that ingeniously locks you into purchasing from them in the long term.

The Amazon streaming player can be accessed via almost any web browser, including Safari for iPhone, and has a dedicated Android app. Making the player compatible with mobile Safari keeps Apple’s tendency to block competitor products from the iPhone nicely at bay.

Google Music Beta

The long-reigning king of the Internet is not about to be pushed aside by Amazon or Apple. Earlier this month, Google threw its hand in the ring with Music Beta, a currently invitation-only cloud music hosting and streaming service.

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Google Music Beta

Google has built an impressive online player that has much of the same features that you see in iTunes: custom and automatic playlists, offline play and a nice album cover grid view. There are also many features that you don’t see in iTunes, such as access from the web or Android devices and always synced music libraries and playlists.

In a pretty serious blow to Amazon’s plan, Google is giving users a whopping 20,000 song’s worth of space free. As shown on Amazon’s own chart above, that would cost you $100 with their service! Currently, Google isn’t offering a way to upgrade your storage, but long-term you can probably expect that to change. For the most users though, I’m sure 20,000 songs will be more than enough to last a while!

iTunes in the Cloud?

The two solutions above are, at this point, leaning far in favor of Android users, leaving us iPhone owners out in the cold as far as native iOS apps go. Everyone says Apple is working on a solution, but is it true?

Last year, when reports of a cloud-based music service began to surface, they had little ground to stand on. All we really had was pure speculation and the occasional disappointing announcement from Apple that always turned out to be something other than iTunes in the cloud.

“Few, if any, know exactly what’s coming, but at this point most experts claim that something will indeed be arriving very soon.”

However, over time the climate has changed into one that is similar to what surrounded the launch of the iPad. Few, if any, know exactly what’s coming, but at this point most experts claim that something will indeed be arriving very soon.

PCMag is reporting that Apple has already reached deals with four major music labels. If this is true it would put them far ahead of Amazon, who has been struggling in this area. AppleInsider notes that Apple has been filing patents outlining features in the new service to prepare for its launch. PCWorld claims that Apple paid as much as $4.5 million to acquire the legal rights to the name “iCloud”. These reports go on and on.

A particularly convincing fact that Reuters recently pointed out is that Apple has been pouring billions into a massive 500,000 squarefoot data center in Maiden, North Carolina that they speculate could be “at the center of Apple’s cloud strategy.”

More and more the question of whether or not Apple is pursuing a cloud-based music streaming service is turning into a question of when it’s going to launch and what features it will include. So before you go shelling out your hard-earned money to Amazon, it’s definitely worth the wait to see what’s up Apple’s sleeve.

Watch Out for June

Apple’s famous Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) is coming, in fact, it’s just about here. June 6-10 Apple will be back in San Francisco, and they’re reportedly planning some big announcements in the area of software, not hardware.

Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller says they’re going to “unveil the future of iOS and Mac OS” and that it’s an event that we won’t want to miss. Sure, this could be said of just about any Apple WWDC, but with Lion and hopefully a cloud-based music service right around the corner, this promise is enough to make any Apple fan excited.

How much will it cost? What will it do? How many songs will we be able to upload? At this point, it looks like we’re going to have to wait until that magical 24 hour period before Apple’s announcements where everything starts getting leaked to find out. But if you’re in the market for a Mac/iPhone-friendly way to finally unify your music collection across all of your various devices and access your full collection of tunes from anywhere with a ready Internet connection, you just might get your wish in a couple of weeks.