Earlier today, as indie music advocates expressed concern over Apple’s iCloud today, I asked a set of questions about what I thought was relevant about these services. Those were questions not just for Apple, but any new “cloud” service. I don’t want to leave those questions dangling, now that we know more about Apple’s upcoming entry. So here are some answers, now that we have some data (though not, importantly, a shipping product).
1. Will majors get a better deal than minors? And who will get paid, and how?
Answer: unknown. With only $30 a year covering the Apple cloud service, the safe bet is that cloud sync isn’t really much of a new revenue source. Given that anyone can get on iTunes with a small chunk of change, though, if the cloud does generate more music consumption, everybody wins.
There’s an argument that syncing pirated files somehow legitimizes them, but people made that argument about the iPod, too.
Advantage: none. Things stay largely as they are, it would appear; wait to see if this causes an up-tick in online music sales.
2. Will “cloud” music mean lower-quality audio?
Answer: presumably, yes and no. Apple largely touted downloads, not streams.
reportedly, the service offers both. The streams would likely be lower-fidelity (safe guess, 128k AAC?), though details are unavailable as I write this.
Case in point – Apple touts downloading and 256k AAC files, even with iTunes Match, but never once mentions “streaming.” TuneCore, who provide service to Apple, say streaming is the whole point. By the way, not just “blogs” are confused by this issue; NPR All Things Considered reports today oscillated over whether to describe this as “streaming.”
Confirmed: the way in which I described the service originally was correct; for now, Apple says they’re not streaming files. Files sync and play locally.
Advantage: Apple / more data needed. And if you want to sync lossless or higher-fidelity files, do it.
3. How easy will sync be? Will this add DRM?
Answer: Looks pretty easy, though as with other Apple services, you of course need an Apple device or iTunes to make the thing work. (Note to self: Google, Amazon, and Apple have all left the door open for someone to make something that “just works” everywhere.)
Advantage: None. A complex landscape of devices and vendors means there’s a one-size-fits-all solution is probably far off.
4. What if you don’t buy from Apple?
Answer: The picture’s a little better here. Rip music or buy elsewhere, and you either sync or get your music matched to the iTunes catalog if it’s available there. That appears to be the best-case solution for now.
Advantage: Apple, more or less. See point #3.
5. Interoperability and the open Web.
The good: works with non-Apple content. The bad: pretty useless for non-Apple devices, and there’s no API. While sharing your music online might just mean more piracy, it’d be nice to share your data. And what happened to Ping?
For Web lovers, not much here. But that’s not a criticism of Apple, necessarily: it should appear as an engraved invitation to Web developers to keep attacking the question of how to enjoy music in new ways.
Advantage: the Web – shame all these vendors are slow to take advantage of it.
Next: I may have to take these four questions to Apple’s rivals — and, of course, we’ll have to see:
a) what labels think of all this
b) what the experience of actually using these services feels like to users
The most important question: will this change how you get your music to fans, or is it something to leave the device and software makers? That may take far longer to answer.