Will Apple Kill The MP3 Tomorrow?

Apple has posted a cryptic message on its Web site, teasing the world about an “exciting” iTunes announcement that’s coming tomorrow. What could it be? I saw that someone had suggested The Beatles were finally coming to iTunes, but really, who cares? If you want The Beatles on your iPhone you can grab the newly remastered albums that came out last year, “rip, mix, burn,” then off you go. Not very exciting, no. What could be exciting, though, is a streaming music service. In an instant, Apple would have killed the MP3 once and for all. You hear that? That’s the sound of the RIAA thanking Apple over and over again.

A streaming music service would make all kinds of sense for Apple, and it wouldn’t be too bad for us consumers either. Streaming services have already seen much success, chiefly with Spotify in Europe and Rdio here in the U.S. But an iTunes Streaming service, probably given a slick name like “iTunes Stream,” would instantly take the idea of streaming from something only techie geeks care about to something the whole family can enjoy.

Think about it. Every song ever (deals with record labels permitting, of course), right there on your iPhone, your iPad, your Apple TV, your MacBook, on-demand and always at the ready. If you can access the Internet (“the Cloud”), then you can listen to your tunes.

And just like that, your MP3s are worthless. Why would you maintain a giant collection of hard drive-eating MP3 and AAC (the file format iTunes uses) files when you can access the same songs from a handy App?

Let’s see… gigabytes upon gigabytes of music files versus a single App that can stream any song with the touch of a button. Well, the touch of a screen, as it were.

It’s a no-brainer, and everybody wins.

Apple collects $10 per month (or whatever) from you, you get access to an entire Cloud’s worth of music, and the record labels no longer have to worry about pesky kids “trading files” any more. Not because illegally trading iTunes-purchased music was ever a problem for the record labels, but that iTunes Stream would represent a very clear change in the culture of music consumption. Kids wanting to listen to Kanye West’s “Monster” won’t think to look for an “MP3,” they’ll grow up learning to fire up iTunes Stream on their iPhone.

I can see audiophiles not particularly caring about any of this, complaining about the compression used in the streaming, never thinking to listen to music on a phone, but the number of people who listen to 24bit lossless vinyl rips (give me FLAC or give me death!) using Foobar2000 and $500 headphones is non-existent compared to people who are cool with listening to Nicki Minaj on YouTube (read: rubbish quality) using $10 earbuds.

And now we play the waiting game, waiting for Apple to kill the MP3 once and for all.