Apple is reportedly closer than ever to launching a streaming-music competitor to Google and Amazon.
According to Bloomberg, Apple has signed deals with Sony, EMI Group and Warner Music Group "to let users of its new music service access their song collections from handheld devices via the Internet." Users could access their music via Apple's servers instead of storing it on a hard drive. A deal with Universal Music Group is apparently on the table.
Meanwhile, pundits like AllThingsD's Peter Kafka are questioning whether music publishers like Warner/Chappell are onboard. If not, that could complicate the situation for Apple, if the company is indeed pursuing the rights to songs.
If Apple indeed launches a service with deals in place from the major record labels, it would mark a departure from the strategy embraced by Google and Amazon, which introduced their own services without prior licensing deals in place.
Meanwhile, a patent application uncovered by the blog Apple Insider suggests that Apple is exploring means of faster music streaming by having its devices locally store a tiny portion of each song; that would not only reduce the amount of space needed on an iPhone or iPad for music, but allow songs to begin playing without a "buffering" pause.
All signs currently point toward Apple taking steps to more deeply integrate the cloud with its existing products. The company recently finished construction on a massive data center in North Carolina, reportedly to help with those cloud efforts. The Green (Low Carbon) Data Center Blog reported April 13 that Apple had hired away Kevin Timmons, general manager of Microsoft's Datacenter Services unit; Microsoft confirmed to eWEEK that Timmons was moving on, while Apple did not return a request for comment.
To top it off, Digital Daily reported April 29 that Apple had bought the iCloud domain name from Xcerion, a Swedish hybrid-cloud vendor. Current rumors suggest that Apple paid $4.5 million for the rights to that name, although the company has declined to confirm any particulars of a deal.
Apple will almost certainly reveal more at this year's Worldwide Developers Conference, set for June 6-10 in San Francisco. "At this year's conference, we are going to unveil the future of iOS and Mac OS," Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, wrote in a March 28 statement posted on Apple's corporate Website. "If you are an iOS or Mac OS X software developer, this is the event you do not want to miss."
Although its iTunes service long set a standard for digital music, Apple finds itself challenged by Amazon and Google on that front. Amazon's Cloud Player allows users to stream tunes over the Web, provided those music files are stored in AAC or MP3 formats; customers get 5GB of free storage to upload their media library to Amazon Cloud Drive, with enhanced storage plans starting at $20 a year for 20GB.
Google unveiled its Music Beta by Google at Google I/O. As with Amazon, Google's service lets users upload their personal music collection to Google's servers, then stream it to a PC or Android device. Users are able to upload up to 20,000 songs, but the service is invitation-only at the moment.