Recently, Google unleashed its service for storing and playing music through the cloud. Though it wasn't a complete effort (Google didn't finalize agreements with record labels), it is still a simple and effective way of storing your music somewhere besides your phone or computer, thus saving space and making it easy to transfer and carry around your music. On the surface, it sounded like an easy way for Google to beat Apple to market with a cloud music player. And then reports started surfacing this week of exactly what Apple plans on doing with its own cloud music player. Talks of negotiations with the top record labels, patent filings for systems to prevent lag while streaming music, and rumors of an easier way to get your music to the cloud are starting to make Apple's idea sound very appealing so I decided to discuss it with you, our PhoneDog viewers, and see what you guys thought about it in this week's PhoneDog Live.
So there are a few different parts to this story. First, CNET reported that Apple had just signed a cloud-music licensing agreement with Warner Music and EMI Music. Then Bloomberg reported that Apple had reached a similar deal with Sony, leaving Universal as the only major label left though sources have indicated that Apple and Universal are close to a deal. Once Apple completes these deals with the 'big four' music labels, tons of doors are opened up as to what Apple can do.
Not only does this mean that Apple can offer users the ability to buy and store music through the cloud, something Google can't say about Music Beta, it also makes it easier to transfer your already purchased music to Apple's cloud player. Instead of spending hours on end uploading every music file from your computer to the cloud, Apple's service can scan your hard drive, record a list of the songs you own, and then simply match those files with the master recordings it has on hand - master recordings Apple will have access to because of their deals with the record labels. From personal experience of uploading my songs to Google Music, I can tell you this is going to save a lot of time.
But there's more. AppleInsider uncovered a patent application that was filed by Apple way back in November of 2009 called "Local Storage of a Portion of Streamed Media Items". The problem that Apple presents, one that we've all experienced I'm sure, is that while streaming music, music playback may be delayed "until at least the beginning of the media items has been cached." So before a song can actually play, the service caches the beginning of it so that at least the start of the playback will be smooth. When you're playing a set playlist or using a service that determines what song comes next, this action isn't always noticed because the service can automatically cache the beginning of each consecutive song because it knows what's coming next. However, if you skip a song or skip through playlists, which most of us do, you'll experience several pauses between music playback. According to Apple, "this may limit the user's ability to enjoy the user's media library and the user's electronic device." The solution? Apple will store the beginning of every song in your library, as well as bits of the songs themselves, locally (on your device). By doing this, not only will the transition from song to song be seamless, but there will be no pauses while playing the song due to a connection problem, something I've personally experienced while using Google Music and other streaming services. "The transition from the locally stored portion and the streamed media could be seamless and invisible to the user."
To this end, the patent application includes a picture of an iTunes window showing the syncing options that will be available. The user can choose whether or not to use this service of storing bits of a song and can even select a minimum connection speed required to stream music which will help the music player determine exactly how much of a song needs to be stored rather than streamed.
But there's even more. You don't have to store all of your music in the cloud. You can choose to store some, all, or most of your music on your device and the rest in the cloud or vice-versa.
I'm not typically a fan of Apple's ideas, but even I have to admit that this is genius. My complaints with Google Music are 1) I have to transfer ALL of my music to the cloud (no options for some or just a certain playlist and the wait time is atrocious) 2) music playback is sometimes choppy, as it is with any music streaming service, and 3) I can't buy music from Google Music. Apple has solved all of those problems.
So when are we going to see this? The speculation is that Apple will debut this service at WWDC in June. That rumor isn't too far-fetched since we've already heard reports that Apple is closing in on the final deals with the record label companies. Not only that, but we were told that this year's WWDC would focus more on software and not hardware (read: no new iPhone). Apple does still need to reach agreements with music publishers which All Things Digital is reporting hasn't happened yet. Their sources do say, however, that this process shouldn't be too complicated.
So when will we see new hardware? When will the iPhone 4S/5 come out? Digitimes is reporting that "production of iPhone 4S will begin in August and the earliest launch may be in September." The site also reports that the rear camera will be upgraded to 8 megapixels and that the phone will not be LTE-enabled. Instead, Digitimes' sources say that Apple will delay the launch of an LTE-enabled iPhone until 2012 since "the implementation of LTE networks has not yet matured."
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