Apple for a change has turned its back on its secretive ways and has openly confessed, prior to its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), that it will be launching its highly anticipated cloud offering- iCloud.
While details regarding the services offered under the moniker iCloud are hard to come by, reports of Apple signing licensing deals with music labels and its competitors - Google and Amazon - haste in launching their music lockers, alludes that iCloud could be a music locker facility.
The media is abuzz with how iCloud could be a game changer, however, Apple's cloud plans still have a few hurdles to cross before it can substantially alter the content streaming domain.
Compared to Google and Amazon, who have launched their music lockers Music Beta and Cloud Drive respectively, sans a licensing deal with music labels, Apple is on a solid footing as it has mitigated the risk of lawsuits from major music labels.
WSJ reported that Apple has signed agreements with Warner Music, EMI Music and Sony Corp. The deal allows Apple to offer an active locker compared to Google's and Amazon's passive locker service.
Passive lockers require users to upload their music collection to the cloud before it can be accessed from a browser. However, Apple's licensing deal allows it to offer a scan and match service, a service which is an extension of its iTunes Genius feature. Genius gathers and then sends tag data about a users' music to Apple based on which it then makes music recommendations. A minor tweak to this feature would allow Apple to scan a users' disk and send the tag data back based on which verified music would be unlocked for streaming to iPad, iPhone, iPod and iMac. This feature eliminates the need to spend long hours uploading one's music collection to the cloud.
However, there are still the following walls that Apple will have to breach before iCloud could become a success.
Music Labels confidence:
Music labels would fear that they are once again giving Apple too much control over their digital content. Apple and music labels have earlier had disagreements about Apple's threshold pricing of $0.99 for single track downloads on iTunes. Labels were demanding a change in price structure. After much haggling Apple acquiesced and started offering single tracks at tracks at three different price points 69 cents, 99 cents and $1.29.
Also, music labels will be wary of the fact that listeners will no longer buy more than a single copy of a track and if Apple puts up a subscription model then users will certainly say goodbye to buying music which hurts the labels core business.
A lot of tracks on users' disks are either ripped from CDs or have been downloaded from P2P sites. This will also affect music labels as these tracks could pass as verified music thus hurting the labels business.
Apple's cult-like-status ensures that most of its product launches are coupled with heavy demand. Recently Apple's launch of its tablet iPad 2 in China was met with serpentine queues and violent skirmishes. If Apple's iCloud is a success then this means Apple will have to manage huge traffic. This poses the question as to whether Apple has its servers up and ready to handle this stress.
Recently, cloud-computing giant Amazon as part of its promotional offer to push its music locker service, Cloud Drive, offered Lady Gaga's Born This Way album for 99 cents. The offer caused a surge in demand bringing down its servers.
Considering Apple's products Apple will surely see huge traffic for iCloud thus raising questions as to whether Apple is ready to handle this. One waits to see if Apple's new data center which is five times the size of its existing data center in Newark can handle the pressure. The North Carolina facility measures 500,000 square feet compared to Newark's 107,000 square feet.
Apple's walled garden approach:
Apple is sure to carry its walled garden approach to iCloud as well. Thus iCloud access will be limited to its devices and not any browser. Cloud-computing faces a major loophole which is vendor lock-in which curbs flexibility. Similarly users would expect that they can access their music from various devices, a proposition which goes against Apple's grain of thinking since Apple's revenue model is tied to selling its devices iPad, iPhone and iPad. This would require users to use other music lockers which are compatible with non-Apple devices.
The music locker domain is at a nascent stage. Thus, any missteps by Apple, Google or Amazon can be excused as every step is a building block towards making the cloud world a more appealing proposition.