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The Race To Redefine Radio

Rosalie Murphy |
May 25, 2011 | 6:46 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Apple is slated to enter the cloud-based music market next month. The Cupertino giant, however, will be the fourth in this fledging market, following Google, Sony and Amazon. Apple's service, reportedly called iCloud, promises to once again redefine the traditional media market, the radio.

A cloud-based music service stores music files in an online database, which allows users to stream them through an application. These databases, or “lockers,” then become available on any device with a broadband connection – TVs, PlayStations, laptops, desktops and cell phones, among others. Here, they act like FM stations, creating playlists tailored to a specific genre or theme. Some may even host commercials.

Unexpectedly, Amazon preempted Google and Apple to produce the industry’s first portable “music locker.” The Amazon Cloud Player allows users to upload their own music libraries to an independent server. After purchasing an album from Amazon’s MP3 store, users receive 20GB of free storage space. Then, within weeks of Amazon’s unannounced launch, Sony introduced “Music Unlimited” on their PlayStation 3 and scored what Amazon still lacks: contracts with music labels Universal, EMI, Warner and Sony. Users can stream about six million tracks from these labels in combination with their own libraries.

The home screen of Google's "Music Beta" cloud player. Via Creative Commons
The home screen of Google's "Music Beta" cloud player. Via Creative Commons

Google followed next, launching their service, “Music Beta” May 10. Like Sony’s player, Music Beta stores users’ music on remote servers accessed online. Additionally, users can download songs to an Android app for offline listening. But according to TG Daily, Google is still struggling for contracts like Sony’s that would allow users to stream or purchase music. 


Apple, however, is rumored to have signed at least three of these four essential labels. Such a deal would let Apple offer a subscription-based service accessible from any of its personal computers. Removing copyright limitations would essentially allow users to access any song at any time, without needing to purchase individual tracks or albums.

Expected on June 6 at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, this announcement could all but negate the work of other developers, according to Wired.com:

“Apple… will be able to zing your music files around virtually. [Amazon and Google] must allow users themselves to copy the files up and down from the cloud, the way they would with an external hard drive sitting next to their computers. Which would you rather do? As it has in the past, Apple has allowed its competitors to enter this cloud music market first. And once again, by taking the time to cross its t’s and dot its i’s, it could come out on top.”

A hybrid of Pandora Radio and Youtube’s streaming ability, the iCloud and its competitors may finally unite the personal MP3 collection – portable for more than a decade – with traditional radio playlist technology. And without the limitations of a manually synced device, listeners will be able to access a station-sized library by swiping a touch-screen finger.


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