iTunes in the Cloud: A Great Start, But Just That

So Apple finally launched their much anticipated cloud music service, and they didn’t disappoint. At least by cloud-locker standards they didn’t. But I wanted more, a lot more.

Here’s my quick take on what Apple launched and where I think they should go next:

Automatic Downloads

What is it? Enables iTunes buyers to transfer music purchases to any iTunes supported device of songs that you have bought from iTunes.

How much of a big deal is it? This is a welcome move, but one that really should have happened long ago, and it’s entirely not Apple’s fault it took so long. The music industry still thinks of digital music on a per-device basis. But restricting the devices people can take their purchased music on only weakens legal services when compared to illegal ones, which of course have no such qualms. Thinking of music consumption on a device basis rather than a person basis is simply the wrong worldview and it needs to change, fast. Automatic Downloads are nice move towards a new way of thinking, but of course within the tightly controlled confines of the iTunes ecosystem.

iTunes Match

What is it? Matches your music collection against Apple’s cloud catalogue and upgrades your music to 256 kbps AAC, all for $24.99 a year.

How much of a big deal is it? This is the sort of locker service Amazon and Google *should* have launched. Instead of having to painfully upload your entire music collection you simply need to scan and match, a process which should take a matter of minutes. It makes a cloud collection a seamless extension of your local collection.

Mulligan’s Take: With these simple but elegantly executed features Apple has created a best-of-breed cloud / music store combination that makes much of the competition pale by comparison. Apple has done what Apple does best: it has let the competition move first, learned from their mistakes and launched a better product. And yet it is it enough? Apple have done more than enough in terms of the current cloud-storage debate, and this is a clear shot across the bows of Google and Amazon’s burgeoning digital music ambitions. Also, make no mistake, Apple will have worked hard to get what they have from the rights holders to get this service to market. But it doesn’t do half as much as it could do, to move the digital music conversation on beyond the ‘distraction’ of locker services.

Locker services – in iTunes Match form – should be part of every digital music service, just like there should be a play button on every MP3 player. But they are just that: a feature not a service. If the music industry is going to take big strides forward over the coming years it needs more than locker services, much more. It needs rich, interactive and social music services that make people fall in love with the power of digital music again. In the context of iCloud that would mean:

• On-demand streaming of music you *don’t* own
• Monthly iTunes purchase credits which (unless you specify otherwise) automatically convert into purchased downloads of the songs you played most last month but didn’t own
• Subscription costs bundled into the cost of Apple devices at point of purchase
• Ping!, Genius, Twitter and Facebook deeply integrated to create a truly social music consumption and discovery experience
• Limited Garageband and iMovie functionality integrated to enable mash-ups

That is of course a lengthy wish-list and one that won’t be fulfilled anytime soon. But nonetheless that is the sort of thing the record labels need to encourage Apple, Google and Amazon to build over the next few years if they are going to get digital music out of its current impasse.

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5 thoughts on “iTunes in the Cloud: A Great Start, But Just That

  1. Hey Mark

    Great Article, i really like your ideas on what labels need to do to get into digital music properly. What i don’t understand is why they do not create their own cloud service between them to make licensing artists music to the platform a whole lot easier and ‘cutting out the middle man’ so keeping more of the profits.

    I also agree digital music should be more social and engaging and i believe its starting to get there, it will be interesting to see what services start popping out of the woodwork!

    What do you think?

  2. The problem is that record labels don’t have the innovation heritage, resources nor capabilities that tech, hardware and software companies have. So it is harder for them to drive the innovation process. Their more appropriate role is to proivde the platforms that enable innovation viaa flexible licensing strategies. Unfortunately that isn’t yet happening as muh as it needs to be. The net result is less innovation than the market needs.

  3. Pingback: Music Ally | Blog Archive » Digital media industry steps aside as new Apple software takes centre stage

  4. Great point Mark, but what if the labels went to a third party cloud computing provider (not the major players like apple, amazon etc) and created it this way. I think that playing into the tech companies hands is a slippery slope that will only end bad for the music industry and its dependence on the tech giants. I think there needs to be a music industry built and released services so that labels can take the bulk of the income from these types of services.

    What do you think?

  5. Pingback: Apple’s iCloud and What It Means to the Digital Music Market

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