Apple strengthens its grip on music

Steve Dinneen
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THAT Apple was ready to launch a cloud-based music service has been the worst-kept secret since a certain Welsh footballer tried to keep his name out of the newspapers.

Exactly what Apple’s latest venture means for the industry, however, is only just becoming clear. Steve Jobs’ insistence on returning from medical leave to show it off on Monday shows that the Cupertino-based firm sees this as more than just a pumped-up software update.

While the free version of the cloud service will offer a useful syncing and storing solution, the iTunes tie-in is where it gets interesting.

Anything downloaded from the iTunes Store will be made available across all your devices for free. But for $25 a year, iTunes Match will take every song from your iTunes library – including those ripped from your CD collection and any that may have fallen off the back of a virtual lorry – and correlate them with a version stored on its servers. You will then be able to download them onto your iPhone/iPad/Mac/PC without spending hours making the transfer. Anything not included in Apple’s 18m-strong library will be uploaded separately. Altogether Apple will let you stash 20,000 songs in its cloud for the annual fee.

Apple has paid out $100m to the major record labels to get the go-ahead for the service, which smells like a pay-off for allowing potentially illegally downloaded content into the cloud. What it gets in return, aside from the subscription fees, is yet another reason for customers to remain inside the Apple eco-system – and shell out for more shiny hardware. Updates to its mobile platform that allow you to manage your music through your iPhone also weaken the tie to a “mother ship” computer, giving you one less reason to buy a Windows PC.

So the iCloud will help continue the slow erosion of Microsoft’s market share. But it could also spell trouble for rival cloud services including Amazon’s Cloud Drive and

Google’s Music Beta. While both are cheaper than Apple’s offering, they do not have the same complimentary hardware – in short, if you

already own an iPhone or iPad it’s a no-brainer.

Spotify will breathe a tentative sigh of relief that Apple did not release a full music subscription service, as some predicted.

What Apple has done is bring iTunes further into the centre of your musical life. It also makes a

subscription service more likely to stick, if and when Apple decides to launch one.

iTunes Match ($25)

For $25 a year, iTunes Match will take every song from your iTunes library and match it up with a high quality version stored on Apple’s servers. This even includes songs downloaded from sites not verified by Apple (read LimeWire, IsoHunt et al). You can then download these songs onto your iPhone, iPad etc, making managing your music far easier. The $25 allows you to store up to 20,000 songs in the cloud.

iCloud (free)

The free version of the service will sync information from sources including your contacts, calendar, email and downloaded apps across up to 10 authorised devices. Anything downloaded from the iTunes Store will be available across all your devices.