For all the buzz about Apple offering its own cloud-based music service, the part of the company’s iCloud announcement today that resonated most with me was Photo Stream.

The service will automatically grab photos taken on iOS devices or imported to a user’s Mac — or Windows PC — sync them up to the online service, and share them with the rest of the user’s devices. It’s not groundbreaking from a technology perspective, but the implementation looks nice, a simple way of dealing with something that remains a huge challenge for many of us today.

No more emailing photos to yourself. It’s also free, as will be the other core iCloud services when they come out this fall.

Less simple is the company’s new iTunes in the cloud. Music tracks purchased from iTunes can be easily shared among the user’s devices via the free part of the service, released in beta today. But when it comes to tracks not purchased via iTunes, users will need to pay for a $25/year service called iTunes Match if they want those track in the cloud. Here’s how Apple describes the process.

iTunes determines which songs in your collection are available in the iTunes Store. Any music with a match is automatically added to your iCloud library for you to listen to anytime, on any device. Since there are more than 18 million songs in the iTunes Store, most of your music is probably already in iCloud. All you have to upload is what iTunes can’t match. Which is much faster than starting from scratch. And all the music iTunes matches plays back at 256-Kbps iTunes Plus quality — even if your original copy was of lower quality.

Interesting, but it seems like Apple is creating an unusual hybrid of download and subscription-based music services here. It’s notable that the company compares the service to Amazon and Google’s subscription offerings, but not to pure subscription music offerings such as Rhapsody and Zune that offer simple access to huge music libraries in the cloud, no need to match an existing library.

Granted, iTunes Match is cheaper (Rhapsody is at least $10/month by comparison) but on the surface iCloud doesn’t seem like a huge threat to the Seattle-based music service. It would have been much more interesting for Apple to offer its own real subscription music service.

The story is different for Rhapsody’s former parent, RealNetworks, whose forthcoming Unifi cloud-based media-management service seems to face a tough new competitor in the form of Apple’s iCloud.

The file sharing and sync components of iCloud are also notable, with competitive implications for Dropbox and other cloud storage services. The New York Times rounds up the various other apps that will face new competition from Apple following the iCloud announcement.

Update: Watch the recorded video stream of the Apple WWDC keynote.

Comments

  • johnhcook

    I’d like to see iCloud’s PhotoStream service pick up videos too. That would be cool. The PhotoStream service sounds a bit like RealNetworks’ Unifi and Seattle startup HomePipe.

  • johnhcook

    I’d like to see iCloud’s PhotoStream service pick up videos too. That would be cool. The PhotoStream service sounds a bit like RealNetworks’ Unifi and Seattle startup HomePipe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=540986757 Scott Hillis

    So is music over iCloud a streaming service or does it just let you download tracks you buy on one device to your other devices? 

    • Anonymous

      All download, no streaming is my understanding after watching the event and reading the Apple materials. http://www.apple.com/icloud/features/

    • Ashleye

      Todd is correct about iCloud’s service not offering a streaming solution to access your music. However, like John mentioned above, HomePipe allows you to stream music from any device regardless of platform and won’t take up excess storage. It’s might be worth checking out – http://www.homepipe.net

  • Peter Wilson

    IMHO you’re missing the point of iTunes match. AFAIK most songs in iTunes library are pirated (look at iPod storage growth vs. music sales growth as an indication here – not perfect data because of movies and apps, but gives an indication of demand). iTunesMatch gives labels a way to recoup money for pirated content while getting around the stupid (from a CS perspective) restrictions on single instancing music on cloud services.

    From that perspective iTunes Match is a *huge* step forward for both the music industry and streaming music companies. One can imagine a world where music is free and you pay for access, much like the news business today.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Peter, appreciate the perspective. I just want it to be simple and seamless, and this feels too complex/confusing.

      • Peter Wilson

        Agree it could be simpler. I don’t understand why they didn’t say “for $25/yr you can stream any song in your iTunes which is also sold by iTunes, for the others you’re out of luck.” That would be simpler and just as compelling for most people.

  • Peter Wilson

    IMHO you’re missing the point of iTunes match. AFAIK most songs in iTunes library are pirated (look at iPod storage growth vs. music sales growth as an indication here – not perfect data because of movies and apps, but gives an indication of demand). iTunesMatch gives labels a way to recoup money for pirated content while getting around the stupid (from a CS perspective) restrictions on single instancing music on cloud services.

    From that perspective iTunes Match is a *huge* step forward for both the music industry and streaming music companies. One can imagine a world where music is free and you pay for access, much like the news business today.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=772027048 Donald Whelan

    Is it possible for Photo Stream to allow sharing of image en masse with others? It’s great if I can access all of my images from anywhere, but can I give access to them to family members? The one thing Apple hasn’t quite figured out yet is multi-user access to media. Legal restrictions aside, it’s not that different from iPhoto & iTunes’ inability to be run on a home server. Any news on this useful possibility?

  • http://twitter.com/stripedsail Striped Sail

    I can’t wait for iCloud Photo Stream to come out, it will be great to finally be able to get all my photos on my iPad instantly!  http://stripedsail.com/blog/2011/09/30/icloud-photo-stream-arrives-next-week-to-change-the-game/

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