August 3, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Apple iCloud Will Power Music Apps, to an Extent

apple icloud

Apple’s iCloud will soon mirror your iTunes music to the cloud for free in minutes, as well as letting you keep other files there, if that’s what you want. And why not? The cloud, iCloud included, has its benefits — in this case downloading (but not streaming) your music to iTunes or iOS devices.

ICloud will also run Apple web apps, which TechCrunch called “beautiful” and of the HTML5 variety: Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Find My Phone, and iWork (which includes Pages, Numbers, and Keynote).

But Apple hasn’t announced a web app for music, which would essentially be the real “iTunes in the cloud,” making all of one’s music, regardless of where it was purchased, accessible from any connected device.

Instead, iCloud songs download to iOS devices, where they can be played by Apple’s own iOS app (reportedly called “Music,” not “iPod”). The current version of iOS allows third-party app developers to access the music within that app, as of today. I feel it’s a safe assumption that it will continue to do so, although when we put that question to Apple, a spokesman declined to comment.

If Apple does let developers access downloaded iCloud songs, iOS music apps will be able to play, make playlists out of, and do other things with a user’s cloud-based iTunes music purchases (without the user paying) or potentially their entire collection including stuff they ripped from CD or downloaded from bit torrent (if the user pays Apple $25 per year).

This is a big deal. If iOS developers can build safe driving apps that play iCloud music in the car, among countless other apps, iCloud becomes more alluring to a music fan with an iPhone who is trying to decide which cloud service to go with.

Apple launched a beta version of iCloud to developers this week, and also gave them an API (application programming interface) so they can integrate users’ iCloud files into their apps. Developers seem excited about those prospects. A recent Appcelerator/IDC survey found that 50 percent of developers said they were looking forward to integrating users’ iCloud files into their apps.

However, judging from what we’ve heard so far, these apps will not be able to stream music from iCloud. Instead, once again assuming that they have access to iCloud music at all, they will almost certainly have to download the tunes to iOS first, the same way Apple’s own music app will.

Even knowing what we know now, it looks like iCloud will be a boon to music app developers, and by extension, music fans. But despite the fact that iOS apps are backed up in the cloud — and that Apple has (non-music) web apps running within iCloud itself –iCloud isn’t really “iTunes in the cloud” because it doesn’t stream. And app developers can’t build apps that access the music on iCloud itself, because that music must first be downloaded to devices (although Apple could do something tricky like implement its patent on playing part of the song as it downloads).

Among other things, this decision will limit apps’ ability to make smart playlists, mix (in the DJ sense), make games from, and do other things with a user’s entire music collection, because the apps will be limited to what’s on the iOS device instead of what’s on iCloud, in terms of immediate playback, anyway.

The short story: although we wish we had Apple’s confirmation on some details, it already looks like iCloud will lead to some interesting music apps, but a streaming-capable iCloud 2.0 would move the proverbial chains even further. Maybe a first down is enough for Apple at this point, and it plans to save the touchdown for later.

  • Anonymous

    Whilst the usage of music already stored in iCloud by music Apps will be extremely cool and empowering, one aspect of it that strongly appeals to me – as an intermittent App developer – is using it as a communal storage bin for saving and interchanging the recorded output of music Apps.

    Whilst integrating with SoundCloud, Sonoma Audio Copy & Paste and similar solutions is possible right now that requires a sizable amount of implementation work and the user experience is slightly hairy,  making it a feature mostly for advanced users, and fragments the solution space (having to implement all possibilities to satisfy users). iCloud’s expected ubiquity amongst iOS users will mean that everyone will understand how to handle files stored within it, and the API is very clean.

    Looking forward to it’s full release!