Delays? Fragmentation? Advertising? Some Overcast Appears Ahead Of iTunes In iCloud

Once far off in the distance, iCloud is now quickly approaching. It will be a new service with many layers that Apple will first unveil on Monday during the keynote at WWDC. But the most interesting layer, at least from a consumer perspective initially, is the music one. And the details continue to emerge about what’s likely coming.

Today, two reports state that Apple has finalized deals with all four major music labels. CNet notes that Universal is now on board as are many publishers. The LA Times confirms this and suggests that the publisher deals could be completed tomorrow. That means the service will be set for a Monday debut.

Great, right? Potentially. But there are also some troubling details.

First of all, CNet’s report states that while it will first talked about on Monday, the iTunes aspect of iCloud will not launch right away. Instead, it’s expected “soon”. We had previously heard that Apple was aiming for a fall launch of the service, but that likely got pushed up once Amazon and Google unveiled their (decidedly limited) cloud music offerings.

Second, and more importantly, the report says that the initial version of the service will only offer access to songs that have been purchased through iTunes. In other words, any songs ripped from a CD, or obtained through other online stores, or obtained through less-than-legal means, will not be included. That’s not good news.

It makes sense that the music labels would want such a limitation to ensure that pirates aren’t rewarded. But most of the talk up until now has been that Apple was working hard to ensure that all user music would be available in the cloud. This seems vital given users’ desires to work with existing music collections. Now CNet is saying that Apple is aiming to offer this more complete option “sometime in the future”.

Again, not good.

The LA Times report is a bit more disturbing because it talks about uploading. One killer feature of iTunes in iCloud was supposed to be the ability to mirror songs. That is, for iTunes to scan your hard drive, identify your music, and give you access to those same songs in iCloud without any uploading necessary. Both Amazon’s and Google’s service involve uploading — which is a huge pain in the ass — but that’s only because neither of them have the label (or publisher) deals in place. Apple will have those. So let’s hope LA Times simply misspoke there.

And that’s certainly possible. Other aspects of their report don’t make a ton of sense. For example, while CNET says the label/publisher/Apple split for iTunes in iCloud will be 58/12/30, LA Times says that Apple will give a full 70 percent of revenue to the labels and another 12 percent to the publishers, leaving them with only 18 percent. The former split seems more likely given the current status quo, but LA Times went out of their way to update the post with this new split, so perhaps it is correct.

The oddest part of the LA Times post though is the talk about iCloud being advertising-supported. This would represent a big break in form for Apple — more along the lines of the Google model. It’s simply hard to imagine Apple doing something like that.

Of course, no other details are given, so who knows what that actually means.

LA Times also claims that while iTunes in iCloud would be free at first, there would be an annual fee of “about” $25 eventually. Apple is expected to charge for the service, but it may be bundled with other iCloud services, rather than broken out separately. Also, if they are charging the fee, the advertising talk seems even stranger.

Given that fairly loose-lipped music industry people (and Hollywood people as well) are involved, we can probably expect more to leak out before Monday. And let’s hope so, the talk right now is ranging from confusing to a bit disappointing.

[image: twitpic/@stop]