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iCloud launches 

By | Published on Tuesday 7 June 2011

So, Apple boss Stan ‘The Man’ Jobs took to the stage at the not at all dull sounding World Developers Conference in San Fran yesterday to unveil a number of new software innovations, including new Mac operating system Lion, which poses the question, when you name your OS releases after cats, where do you go after ‘lion’? Our money is on a series of upgrades named after the Thundercats.

But, of course, for us music bods, it wasn’t operating system upgrades we were in the house to hear about, we wanted to know about Stan’s big bad cloud, and by that we don’t mean the Apple chief’s persistent ill health. No, we want our content and data to be automatically available across all our devices, without having to partake in any of that tedious syncing nonsense. And, providing all your portable devices are made by Stan, the iCloud will do just that.

“Today it is a real hassle and very frustrating to keep all your information and content up to date across all your devices”, Stan admitted. “iCloud keeps your important information and content up to date across all your devices. All of this happens automatically and wirelessly, and because it’s integrated into our apps you don’t even need to think about it – it all just works”.

So, that means updated contacts, calendars, photos, emails and apps will be automatically pumped to any Apple device from a storage unit in the sky (well, a server connected to the internet, if you prefer accuracy to metaphor). Said Apple locker will also keep back ups of any purchased content or apps, ready to be pumped to new devices, or old devices if they – say – happen to be dropped on arrival at the Edinburgh Fringe wiping your local hard disk clean.

But what does this mean for the music side of iTunes? Well three things. First, iTunes will keep a back up of any tracks you buy from the digital music store in your locker, which can be downloaded or redownloaded to any net-connected device. Existing iTunes customers should find everything they have previously bought via the platform already in their locker. Second, when you buy tracks in future, as well as the back up kept in your iCloud locker, the track will automatically download to all Apple devices as well as your iTunes-carrying computer. Both these new services will be free.

But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, come this autumn the iCloud will allow you to upload your whole MP3 collection to your locker, oblivious of where you got your digital music from. This will then be backed up and accessible from any Apple device. This full digital locker service – which is the bit we didn’t know for sure would be announced at this stage – will cost $25 a year to use.

Because iCloud is licensed (albeit not yet by most of the indies) Apple will be able to offer ‘scan and match’ functionality as part of its upload facility, whereby before uploading any MP3s the system will check what tracks in a user’s collection are already in Apple’s catalogue, which for most people is likely to be the majority. Those tracks will then be moved into the user’s lockers directly from Apple’s own server, saving said user the time and hassle of actually uploading content.

Neither the rival lockers from Google or Amazon can offer this service because, unlike a basic storage offer, where the licensing situation is ambiguous, most agree a ‘scan and match’ service requires some sort of licence from the content owners.

Stan’s big plan was generally well received yesterday, even if most of his announcements had already been leaked this time. Though some point out that when it comes to portable devices, the iCloud only works with Apple gadgets, which is a limitation in a world where Android phones are starting to dominate.

Quick to point out this weakness was 7Digital chief Ben Drury, who told CMU: “We’ve always supported the concept of making consumers’ personal music collections accessible on all their devices – indeed we’ve allowed customers to re-download their purchases for several years. As consumers use more and more connected devices in their daily lives, accessing all their content easily and instantly on all their devices has become a compelling need”.

He continued: “The new services from Apple are a step in the right direction but only if all your devices are Apple devices. Their platform is essentially closed and proprietary – customers are forced into choosing Apple for all their devices. 7Digital’s approach, through our open APIs and partnerships, is to offer cloud functionality that is independent of device – you can use our service on Android, BlackBerry, PC, Mac, Linux, Safari, Chrome etc”.