What Apple's Lala Acquisition May Mean for iTunes

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Apple has struck a deal to buy the streaming and downloading music Web site Lala.com, according to reports from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. It would add to Apple's music empire, but how might this acquision change Apple's tune?

Lala (click to enlarge the screen shot) gives users the option of downloading MP3s for 89 cents each or (this is where things get interesting) buy a stream-only version of the song for ten cents or an entire album for a dollar or so.

The New York Times' unnamed source says talks initiated with Apple after Lala executives determined t

LaLa.com (click to enlarge image)
he service wouldn't be profitable in the near future. The source said Apple was more interested in buying the people behind Lala's streaming service and their experience than the service itself.

Lala started as a CD swapping service and morphed into a music hub before it joined forces with major music labels and launched the streaming and downloading service. In October, Lala made a deal with Google to become a part of its music search, which allowed searchers to preview songs directly in Google search results.

The increase in popularity of streaming music services such as Pandora, Rhapsody and Grooveshark, and streaming m

Artwork: Chip Taylor
usic applications for iPhone and iPod Touch, left questions if Apple would join the streaming bandwagon.

Apple Spokesman Steve Dowling told the New York Times that Apple generally doesn't sharing its purpose or plans when purchasing a small tech company -- but that doesn't mean we can't make a wish list for what we want out of the deal.

1. Cheaper Prices and Streaming Options

Obviously there isn't much forcing Apple to reconsider how it charges for MP3s, but a drop in prices or streaming options would be a welcome addition to iTunes.

Lala's claim to fame is a streaming song for a dime or a Web album for a dollar. Let's face it, with more and more iTunes users toting around iPhones and iPod Touches with less storage space, more Apps and 3G or WiFi connections, streaming music might be a viable model for the future of iTunes.

In 2008 Steve Jobs famously called Blu-Ray a "bag of hurt" partially because of its complex technology licenses and consumers lack of support for the HD disc at the time. Apple embraced HD streaming options on the Apple TV and iTunes; why not extend to streaming music?

2. Full Song Previews

Besides offering cheaper prices than iTunes and streaming options at its music store, Lala also allows users to preview entire songs. After listening to the entire song once, you can preview a 30-second clip before purchasing.

Listening to a whole song instead of a predetermined 30-second snippet can prevent buyers from purchasing a song that sounds good in the previews but ends up being three minutes of blah with a catchy chorus.

3. Genius Radio

Apple has poured a lot of work into Genius. Steve Jobs equates the software to a personal DJ that makes playlists and recommends new songs based on your library. The feature works great, except that it is limited to your existing library or recommends new purchases for you to make. If a streaming subscription, or advertisement based service were created Genius could quickly turn into a behemoth challenger to Pandora, with the backing of Apple's oh-so-famous fanboys.

4. Speaking of Pandora . . .

Let's not forget how badly the whole Google Voice App rejection went down. If Apple is indeed planning to venture into the streaming music world, one hopes it won't suddenly perceive currently supported Apps as iTunes revenue threats and reject them from the App Store.

Apple always had a following for its products' ease of use and quality. Instead of forcing people to use the Apple streaming service on Apple hardware, Apple should continue supporting existing music applications and rely on quality and ingenuity to ensure its solution gets used.

This story, "What Apple's Lala Acquisition May Mean for iTunes" was originally published by PCWorld.

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