May 20, 2011 at 11:20 am

Why Apple Might Be Your Best Bet for This ‘Cloud Music’ Thing

For over a decade now, you’ve been able to store your music on a server in the cloud and stream it to yourself on computers and even mobile devices – but until now, that was mostly the domain of geeks and folks like me whose job it was to test the stuff.

Oh, how times have changed. Digital music is now mainstream, with the possible tipping point occurring in 2003 when Oprah Winfrey gave her audience 15GB Apple iPods. Now that we’re all accustomed to downloading music and carrying it around on a phone or audio player, another activity is set to hit the mainstream: cloud-based music services, which store your music on a server somewhere, doling out songs as necessary to an ever-expanding number of devices.

Amazon and Google have already launched their first forays into this brave new world, but those services are hampered by a lack of record label licensing, and as such, they are essentially glorified hard drives: You have to upload every song yourself — a process that can literally take up to a week, hogging your computer’s processor and your internet connection’s bandwidth, as I have discovered by testing similar services.

Which brings me to my point in all of this: Apple has licensed three of the remaining four major labels for its upcoming cloud-based music service, according to Bloomberg, which reports that having just inked a deal with Sony, Apple needs only sign Universal Music Group to have all four majors. That’s great, but what does it mean to you?

First, you might have to pay to use Apple’s service, unlike Amazon’s and Google’s, both of which offer a good chunk of storage for free.

Second, you might want to.

For the moment, forget about the fact that Apple controls the iPhone, iPod, iPad, and iTunes, whereas neither Google (Music Beta by Google) nor Amazon (Amazon Cloud Drive) has anything approximating any of those things, other than Google’s Android, which it doesn’t control as tightly as Apple controls iOS. Apple’s success in licensing labels means that Apple iCloud, or whatever it ends up being called, will let you mirror your local music collection to Apple’s servers in minutes rather than days.

Mainstream users determine the future, and they have neither the time nor inclination to upload thousands of songs over a period of days in order to set up a music locker. And when they acquire new music, they don’t want to repeat a miniature version of that process each time.

Copyright law may be overly-weighed-down by history, but it exists, and it says that only the owner of a song’s copyright has the right to make a copy of the song. When it comes to cloud-based music lockers, that means Apple, with its copyright licenses, will be able to zing your music files around virtually, by merely identifying them through their metadata. Services without licenses, like Amazon’s and Google’s, must allow users themselves to copy the files up and down from the cloud, the way they would with an external hard drive sitting next to their computers.

Which would you rather do?

As it has in the past, Apple has allowed its competitors to enter this cloud music market first. And once again, by taking the time to cross its t’s and dot its i’s, it could come out on top.

(Top image courtesy of Flickr/Karin Dalziel; bottom photo taken by the author)