iCloud: iTunes Match, Obviating the Need for Piracy

With iCloud, Apple appears to have used the time it has lost in bringing its cloud offering to the market to hone its product to such a degree that it will likely render any lost time commercially irrelevant, and could well overtake Google and Amazon’s cloud services.

iCloud, launched by Steve Jobs yesterday at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), will allow users to store up to 5GB of data in the cloud for free, and crucially, sync the data, be it music, photos, apps, or contacts, across multiple devices including Mac, PC, iPods, iPads and iPhones. This will eliminate the dependence on one Mac or PC-based iTunes basecamp to which all devices must be synced with, and allow users to create one comprehensive media library (excluding video, for now), which can be accessed and updated from anywhere with Internet connectivity.

iCloud’s removal of the umbilical USB cord that is iTunes is likely to broaden the appeal of Apple devices, and could encourage those with one device, for example an iPod, to purchase another Apple device such as an iPad, with the inconvenience of multiple syncs removed.

However, despite the hype over iCloud, and Apple’s massive new data centre in North Carolina which will support it, perhaps the greatest innovation unveiled at WWDC was iTunes Match. This new paid feature will match music not purchased through iTunes, with its equivalent in the iTunes store and make it accessible from the cloud without any lengthy uploading.

The songs will be matched with 256 kbps versions in the cloud regardless of the quality of the original. This may not be good enough for professionals who insist on 320 kbps quality audio, but significantly better than 192 kbps radio quality, and better than many versions stored on space-conscious hard-drives. Any music not available in the iTunes store can be uploaded in the normal way.

iTunes Match’s great innovation is not that it matches the identity of the music to song in the store, thus eliminating lengthy upload periods, but rather that it manages to provide an incentive to pay for access to music, even if that music was originally obtained for free, or illegally.

For example, “a friend of mine.” has a large collection of music, mostly pirated. He doesn’t see the point in paying for music, as it is easily available for free, and he knows that precious little money spent on music goes to the artist, so any money he does spend on music, he prefers to do so at concerts, where a much larger proportion of his money finds its way to the artist.

He does, however, see the value in having all of his music stored remotely without hours of painful uploading, and automatically synced to his iPod or iPhone. So, what Apple has managed here, albeit hypothetically for now, is to extract money, $25 per annum in the United States, from a committed pirate music advocate, not by chasing down his IP address and issuing a subpoena, but by offering something better than what he has, something worth paying for.

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