How iCloud could beat other cloud-based music services

Many tech insiders are speculating that Apple's iCloud could be a new cloud-based music streaming service. If true, here's how it could succeed.

Apple has officially announced the unveiling of its new cloud computing product, iCloud, at WWDC 2011 on June 6. However, that's about as specific as it got. Many tech insiders are speculating that the development could be a new cloud-based music streaming service. If true, here's how it could succeed.

Cloud computing has proven to be one of the biggest tech trends of 2011, ranging from Amazon's new digital storage lockers to Intel's new AppUp hybrid cloud service for small businesses.

But digital music storage is where the action is. In the last few months, both Amazon and Google have rolled out cloud-based storage specifically for music. Amazon got rolling first with 5GB of free Cloud Drive space (which equates to approximately 2,000 songs) with the option of a 20GB paid upgrade. Users can then upload music from their PCs and Macs along with Amazon MP3 purchases to be played on Android devices via the cloud.

Google did things a bit differently. First of all, the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant gained notoriety for launching Google Music without the help (or approval) of the major music industry labels. The Goog also upped the free storage space starting point to 20,000 songs.

There's also Sony's Music Unlimited powered by Qriocity. Aside from the annoyingly long name, this one almost became the clear winner so far this year. However, given the PlayStation Network downtime in April and May, this service (along with several other PSN feature) suffered for several weeks, Music Unlimited became useless for awhile.

Personally, I still find Sony's entry into the cloud-based music business to be the most eye-catching and worth the price. Sony doesn't offer any free storage, but it does offer a catalog of six million songs with all the major labels on board at two affordable monthly subscription prices. Personally, I subscribed to the $9.99 monthly premium plan for entertaining at home and because of its attractive interface. (Every guest who comes over and sees it just oohs and ahhs.)

At this time, users can sync their personal libraries and playlists with Music Unlimited via PC (Mac is supposed to be coming soon) for playback on Sony's Internet-connected devices (i.e. PS3, Bravia HDTVs and Blu-ray players, the Google TV, etc.). Sony will finally get Music Unlimited onto mobile devices with the launch of the NGP gaming console and Xperia Play smartphone later this year.

With all of this taken into account, Apple has to do something better. Whatever it is will involve Lala, which Apple acquired in 2009 but has left stale ever since. Additionally, it will involve (or partially replace) MobileMe, which has never been beloved by even the most die-hard Macheads. Ping, another less-than-thrilling music product Apple unveiled last year, could be in the mix too, but Apple should steer clear of focusing too much on integrating this feature.

It's still early in the music cloud game, so Apple can do a few things to beat out all of the competition:

  1. Offer better free as well as paid subscription with more storage space for each option
  2. Expand cloud coverage to iOS devices as well as stationary Internet-connected devices (i.e. MacBooks, Apple TV)
  3. Make sure the top industry labels are on board
  4. Integrate iTunes for purchasing music to deliver straight to the cloud
  5. Ensure that the cloud is accessible via Wi-Fi and 3G (and 4G in the future)

There are some other lingering questions as to how this will all work, which will likely be addressed in detail by CEO Steve Jobs at the opening keynote of WWDC 2011 in San Francisco next week.

What would you like to see included in iCloud?