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Why iTunes’s Move to the Cloud Won’t Fly (For Now)

Apple recently announced that two of the four major record labels are permitting iTunes to move into the cloud. With this auspicious start, it seems likely that the other two major labels will quickly follow suit, and Apple will launch the gold-standard of the industry’s next chapter: a cloud-based, fully-integrated music library. As we reported earlier, Amazon began providing a similar such service in March, and Google is nipping at their heels.

Differing from the Netflix model, whose monthly fee grants access to their entire movie catalog, Apple’s new move will most likely only offer a digital storage space for music you already own. Essentially, iTunes 11.0 (or whatever they’ll call it) will function as a hard-drive accessible anywhere with Internet access, developed specifically to play music on a variety of Internet-capable devices.

This may initially seem like a huge step forward. MP3s ushered in a new era of music storage and distribution; naturally, it may seem that cloud computing will do the same. But, when actually considering the current state of the music industry, this locker system doesn’t seem to make much sense. This is because pretty much everyone already has their music centralized on a laptop or external hard-drive, with libraries also copied onto iPods, iPads, iPhones, Blackberrys, or Zunes (yeah, right). Just about everyone’s library is already synced up, so everyone’s music is already available pretty much anytime and anywhere (as long as you have your phone).

With this in mind, the lockers don’t seem to contribute very much that we don’t already have. First, the lockers would be accessible anywhere, but thanks to the ubiquity and portability of iPhones and iPods, that’s already pretty much the case. Second, a cloud-based system will allow customers to readily download new music at anytime, but the mobile iTunes store takes care of that. Third, music will no longer take up any hard-drive space, but storage has become so efficient that 20 gigs of music can already fit into pretty much anything. Fourth, the cloud can offer a centralized collection of one’s music, but that seems to offer little more convenience than the centralization on our laptops we already use every day.

Moreover, the locker system can foreseeably become incredibly annoying. Case and Point: Right now, I’m writing this at a Panera in Nashville (om nom nom nom), and the wireless is spotty. I can listen to music without any problem because it’s already on my iPhone. But, the WordPress server (Read: cloud-based) is sketching out because of my connection, and I’m forced to draft this on Text Editor. If iTunes were cloud-based right now, I wouldn’t have access to my music even though my phone is sitting here right next to my bread bowl. If Apple moves iTunes exclusively into the cloud, similar annoyances should become commonplace all over.

Now, these cloudy problems might be worth accepting if their system were more like Netflix. For complete access to the entire EMI or Sony Music Group catalog, it might be worth trading away some of the consistency and flexibility iPods and iPhones now provide. But, these new lockers seem to offer nothing new.

Sure, this move might be the first step in a long march towards a pretty amazing iTunes product, but right now it’s not exactly music to my ears.