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.

  • F

    This guy nailed it a long time ago :

    "The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we've redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do. I can't think of anything that isn't cloud computing with all of these announcements. The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women's fashion. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It's complete gibberish. It's insane. When is this idiocy going to stop? "We'll make cloud computing announcements. I'm not going to fight this thing. But I don't understand what we would do differently in the light of cloud."

    Larry Ellison . September 2008

  • RichardL

    It appears iTunes-in-the-Cloud does not support streaming. 

    You are required to download your music to a supported iDevice or iTunes before you can listen to it. 

    It's really iTunes-Store-in-the-Cloud. 

    Re: "note to self."

    Google Music Beta and Amazon Cloud Player both work in browsers as well as apps on various non-Apple mobile devices.

    Google Music in the browser requires Flash (presumably for audio, the UI is Ajax) so it doesn't work on iOS.

    Amazon Cloud Player works in most browsers including Mobile Safari on iOS. 

    iTunes Match (i.e. matching and uploading) will require iTunes on OS X Lion, Win Vista or 7. Download will presumably work on iOS 4.3 and iTunes 10.3.

  • Peter Kirn

    @RichardL: but TuneCore has a big splashy story where they declare the whole point is streaming. Confused yet? (I'm not the only one all muddled. All Things Considered used the word "streaming" only to correct it later and say … maybe not. They had to go back to Apple PR, who must be overloaded at the moment.)

    Sounds to me like the landscape of services – and the reporting around it – are a big mess. 🙂

  • RichardL

    What Apple announced and showed today definitely does not do streaming.

    Check out this video of the compelling user experience:

    I'm just going to sit on my hands and shut up now.

  • ben

    Hey Peter, It appears there will be an API for iCloud storage. 


  • Peter Kirn

    @ben: Yep, there's definitely an iCloud storage API. It's not clear how that relates to music, whether you can place music synced via iCloud into the music library. My guess is you won't be able to, but that'll be one to watch.

    I'm talking here about the ability to share data about music listening, which right now appears missing in offerings from Google, Apple, and Amazon.

    As for the iCloud API, I'm guessing what we'll see is iOS apps that support sync to Dropbox AND iCloud AND… you get the picture. (Actually, if I were Dropbox, I'd be a little nervous.)

  • iCloud does not (yet) seem to be a streaming service – it's playing it safe in terms of streaming revenue by only allowing you to upload and download media you have already purchased on iTunes, or in the case of iTunes Match, Apple's 256K AAC version of what it thinks you have purchased elsewhere. Most of my stuff is not available in any store (like my band rehearsal recordings…) and Apple claims that, like Google , you'd have to upload that to the iCloud yourself (instead of getting a copy of their version). I'm not happy that my devices will fill up automatically with tunes that I don't want on that device. If you want streaming, well, run a copy of icecast or whatever. Be your own cloud. 

  • The business applications for cloud technology are almost limitless. Apple getting into the market will make watching this sector very interesting.

  • DJ Kimotei

    Not trying to be a "wise ass" at all. But perhaps we should wait a little with the in-depth analyzing after it has been released, and we see the outcome of it all?

    Personally, im part of a huge indie record label movement. European electronic music. Big in other continents too, but its safe to say its huge in the EU. Theres thousands of small, new indie record labels, every year. Still, you cant search or browse labels on iTunes, Spotify or Wimp. Early on, I got the 1st and 3rd gen iPods, and went on the whole new iTunes bandwagon. Its now stuck on a drive since 2008, tied to a broken laptop. Luckily its mostly mp3 downloaded stuf, in mediocre quality.

    But still today, its is not possible to browse music by labels in iTunes. Label names is the way you archive electronic music after! Especially for dance music, who likely covers millions of originally released tracks. I ended up ditching iTunes, and went back to normal PC/Mac archives with folders on my media drive, and winamp or VLC as player.

    I use Youtube, Spotify and Wimp, but more like an on-demand music radio. Love the personal playlists when at friends house. No need to fill up and bring a hardware media container other then for unreleased stuf.

    I still will prefer having my main collection locally. No need for millions of songs though. No more collecting mp3s. For my personal collection, only music that means a lot to me, in full CD or flac quality. For my old huge mp3 archive replacement, shore Cloud, im yours!
    The winner will be the one with the nicest archive and best functional GUI. Be it Spotify, Wimp, iCloud, or whatever.

    As a DJ collector I still keep CDs and Vinyl in my living rooms shelf. Its kind of like books to me. Its art, also much like paintings you put on the wall. That is exactly my relation to them.

    So even though I don't by much CDs anymore, I still get great CD gifts from friend artists and indie labels. Those get copied to my flac/full quality archive. And the original CD goes on the shelf, as a trophy on my sacred music alter, kind of. I want to be reminded of it, every time im home.

    For the music environment I live in, and have lived in for more then 20 years as a professional electro DJ, producer and label owner, im still pretty much on the fence with this whole thing, in regards to have all personal media in the cloud.

    So, my conclusion: The cloud is the modern music radio. And I love the convenience.
    But my art collection aint leaving my house! No way.

    I have DJ friends just recently selling CD or Vinyl albums to collectors for $400 each. Try to do that with a flac file.

    BTW Peter, I love your blog!