Yesterday Apple announced its long-awaited answer to online music services, iCloud. This, along with iTunes Match, represent two more bricks in the increasingly formidable Apple walled-garden.
That Apple was planning an online music service was a poorly kept secret. Rumours have circulated ever since it purchased the streaming service LaLa in 2009, and it’s hard to hide a massive data centre from the prying eyes of Google Maps! No, the question was always ‘what?’ (with a side order of ‘when?’) rather than ‘if’.
In my view Apple’s recently announced solution is innovative, but also further strengthens the company’s grip on its customers.
Apple finds its own path
Conventional wisdom had it that Apple would go down one of two roads: a music streaming service like Spotify, or a digital locker system like the recently announced Google Music. Never one to stick to convention, Apple has ploughed its own path.
iCloud is a fairly standard digital locker, syncing iTunes purchases and all your useful personal data. It’s not as flexible as Dropbox, which lets you store any file type (not just Apple’s), but iCloud’s integration with Apple devices is its key asset.
iTunes Match, however, is more innovative.
Unlike Google Music and Amazon Cloud Player, which require users to upload their music collections, iTunes Match will scan your entire library and then create an iTunes derived version on your iCloud. Any tracks it can’t identify can be uploaded manually, but given the size of Apple’s music store, that’s bound to be a rare occurrence. The service will cost just $25 (£15) per year – around the price of two albums.
You think you’re out, then they pull you back in
This system has several potential benefits. Not forgetting the key feature of synced music collections across several devices, you’ll save a lot of time by not having to upload your music – especially tricky if you have several gigabytes of it. Plus, £15 is a minor outlay compared to Spotify or Amazon Cloud Player, even if you need to buy your own music.
The benefits to Apple are abundantly clear. For a small price, it hooks users into a music collection and service that’s based entirely on Apple’s preferred file format (AAC). And it uses a system of syncing music that Apple controls, even if the user hasn’t used iTunes to purchase that music in the first place.
Just like its App store, once people have invested in scanning their library, synced their devices and got their music set up just how they want it, what are the odds they’ll jump ship to competitors? They’re stacked in Apple’s favour.