Apple has unveiled its long-anticipated iCloud suite, including a cloud music service which takes advantage of the extensive iTunes library.
Steve Jobs took to the stage yesterday to introduce the suite, which includes a revamped version of the MobileMe contacts, calendar and mail services. iCloud will also back up and store settings, app data, purchased content, photos and videos, documents and emails.
But most of the attention has been focused on iTunes in the Cloud.
Apple is launching its cloud music service after Google and Amazon, but Apple's version has a crucial difference – it can take advantage of music tracks already stored in the cloud. Users will be able to access songs from their iTunes library on any of their devices for free, using the versions stored on iTunes servers.
The potential game changer is the subscription iTunes Match service, which will allow users to add songs not purchased from iTunes to the cloud.
The $25 (€17.04) per year service, which will launch in the US this Autumn, will attempt to match songs on user’s hard drives with versions of songs in the iTunes store, and will only upload the songs it can't find matches for.
Taking a jab at its competitors, Apple stated the approach “makes the matched music available in minutes, instead of weeks to upload your entire music library.”
Google's cloud service launched in beta last month without the ability to listen to songs users haven't physically uploaded, in an apparent attempt to avoid conflict with record labels over copyright issues. Amazon's service also acts more like a storage locker. Apple is thought to have negotiated deals with the major record labels to take a cut of the annual subscription fee for iTunes Match to placate them over the service.
According to Ovum analyst Mark Little, it is this distinction that gives the service its advantage. “Apple could at last be creating a cloud platform as a base from which to defend iTunes’ dominant position, not just against Amazon and Google but perhaps more importantly, against Spotify,” he said.
But Little added that the success of the iCloud suite depends on the business model chosen, and on whether the improvements to MobileMe make it a more attractive proposition to users than the “less than successful” original version that launched for $99 in 2008.
Google and Amazon's services have the upper hand in one respect. Unlike Apple's service, they are accessible through web browsers, so are available on a wider range of devices.
But Informa senior analyst Giles Cottle said Apple's walled-garden approach with iCloud could make it more likely to work effectively.
"Apple’s total control of the device and content ecosystem has been heavily criticised in the past, but if iCloud works as well in practice as it did in today’s demo, it’s a stunning validation of the power of closed ecosystems," he said.