iTunes Streams from the Clouds: 8 Questions

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Apple is getting close to launching a cloud-based version of iTunes that supports wireless streaming music and movies and wireless syncing, according to new reports on the effort first reported earlier this year. Boy Genius Report learned from one of its "reliable Apple sources" that a forthcoming update to Apple's music software will push iTunes into the cloud and bring three new features:

  1. Streaming music and movies from Apple's servers to your computers and devices.
  2. Streaming music and movies from your home computers to your other computers and remote devices.
  3. Wireless iTunes syncing with devices

Exciting rumors like this come packed with many questions. Here are eight I have about iTunes in the cloud.

When is it coming?

Apple has a season for updating each of its products, and fall is for iPods and iTunes. So if this new version of iTunes (we'll call it iTunes X from here on out) is coming, most likely it'll be in September.

How much will it cost?

Streaming and storage services such as these don't often come free -- it'd be prudent to anticipate a price tag attached to some aspects of iTunes X. The only comparison I can draw is to Apple's MobileMe cloud storage service, which sells for $99 per year. But if iTunes X only stores music, I'd venture to guess it would sport a lower price tag.

Does this mean a fee-based subscription iTunes is coming?

A fee-based subscription iTunes service has been knocking around the rumor mill for over two years. Timing the release of iTunes X with a subscription service would be perfect.

Apple hasn't tried subscriptions before, but there were rumors last year that it would release an iTunes TV subscription service. The prices mentioned in those rumors were $30 to $40 per month, so it's possible that streaming via iTunes X could have a similar pricing model.

What devices will be supported?

More than likely Apple will keep an exclusive lid on iTunes X and limit compatibility to Apple devices only -- sorry, Android fans.

The Apple device will obviously have to support wireless, either via Wi-Fi or AT&T's 3G network. This leaves out Apple's original bread and butter: the iPod.

Fear not. Boy Genius Report's source adds that "Apple's traditional fall event (or maybe even before it) should bring at least 'two new devices with camera/camcorder capabilities.'" Though that blurb doesn't mention built-in Wi-Fi for Apple's iPod line, such an improvement is long overdue and -- now more than ever -- makes sense.

Will I be able to stream over 3G?

Streaming iTunes X over AT&T's 3G network is laughably doubtful. It would obliterate AT&T's network and/or potentially force AT&T to increase prices on its data plans.

Losing this feature is a shame. Streaming music to computers and remote devices via your home Wi-Fi connection sounds fine, but what about when you're on the go? You'll have to stick with Pandora. Or if you're keen on subscription-based streaming music, Apple just approved the iPod/iPhone app from MOG, the online music streaming service that allows users to listen to as many songs as they want for a $4.99 per month. The MOG iPhone app will reportedly cost $9.99 per month.

Can I stream all of my iTunes music?

One line of BGR's report unsettled me: "... any purchased content that's locally on your computer will be able to be streamed using your Internet connection out to your devices" (emphasis mine).

Does this leave all the songs I ripped from CDs in the dust? Is Apple imposing the stipulation that only songs purchased through iTunes are worthy of wireless streaming? If so, that's sad. It makes me wish Simplify Media hadn't killed off its iPhone app, which allowed you to stream your entire iTunes library over 3G and Wi-Fi.

Does this mean MobileMe will be free?

iTunes in the cloud puts a serious damper on Apple's other cloud-based storage service, MobileMe. Suddenly it's ludicrous to charge MobileMe users $99 per year. There have been rumors that MobileMe might go free -- perhaps this will be timed with the release of iTunes X.

WWGD? (What Will Google Do?)

Don't expect the competition to sit back and enjoy the concert -- things are gonna get heated, especially with Google. Reports indicate that Google plans to build a cloud-based music download and subscription service in the near future.

Here's how I see this one playing out: iTunes X will be Apple-only and Google Music will be Android-only. Google will attempt to release a Google Music app for the iPhone and Apple will shut it down just as it did with the Google Voice app.

This will present yet another intense Apple vs. Android debate. Who will have the most music labels? Give the most storage? Offer the lowest price on subscription streaming?

This story, "iTunes Streams from the Clouds: 8 Questions" was originally published by PCWorld.

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