Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Apple Readies iCloud Service

Apple Inc. has reached deals with major recorded-music companies to help launch an online storage service, people familiar with the matter said, an offering called iCloud that Chief Executive Steve Jobs is expected to unveil Monday. According to these people, Apple has signed deals with Warner Music Group Corp., Sony Corp.'s Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Group Ltd. and expects to sign a fourth with Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group this week. The agreements will let Apple offer an easy way for

consumers to create and listen online to their entire music collections, without the time-consuming work of manually transferring or uploading songs. Many in the music industry see such offerings as a key next step in the evolution of digital media, in which music, and eventually video, is convenient and ubiquitous. Apple wouldn't be the first company to offer such a service, but its standing as the world's largest music retailer and more than 200 million iTunes accounts would give it clout that others have lacked. Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., have attempted to create similar services but so far haven't been able to agree on terms with the record labels. If Apple can be the first to do so, that would further tighten its hold over its users, making it more difficult for Google and Amazon to lure them away. The iCloud service, these people said, is expected to be more robust than those recently introduced by Google and Amazon, which don't have licensing deals with the major labels. A spokesman for Apple declined to comment. The Cupertino, Calif., company said Tuesday that Mr. Jobs, despite being on medical leave since January, will headline its annual developers conference next Monday in San Francisco. The company, breaking from a tradition of saying little in advance of public events, said it will unveil iCloud as well as new versions of Apple's mobile and Mac operating systems. Mr. Jobs's appearance at the conference may help ease concerns about his health. Mr. Jobs, who was diagnosed with a rare type of pancreatic cancer in 2004 and had a liver transplant two years ago, went on his second medical leave in two years in January. While Mr. Jobs has been more visible than the last time, speaking at the iPad 2 launch event in March and taking media interviews about Apple's location-data gathering practices last month, his scheduled appearance had been considered by Apple watchers to be an important indicator of his health and involvement at Apple. People familiar with the new iCloud service have previously described it as an online offering that would allow users to store digital files such as photos, music and videos in remote computer databases and access them from Internet-connected devices. Terms of the deals between Apple and the record labels would allow Apple to offer what is known in the industry as a "scan and match" locker service. Unlike services offered by Google and Amazon, which require users to upload their music libraries, Apple's new service would analyze the library stored on a computer and grant access to songs it recognizes without requiring an upload. Users then are able to listen to their music on compatible smartphones and computers, without copying the songs into each device's memory. But one hurdle still remains: music publishers, which control rights to the words and melodies of popular signs that are separate to rights to recordings. People in the music industry said Apple's talks with publishers remain less advanced, making it uncertain whether Apple would launch a new service without completed deals in place. Some of the biggest publishers expect at least to agree to terms with Apple by the end of the week, but others were less confident. In the past, music services have often treated music-publishing agreements as secondary concerns after record-label deals, but publishers have become more aggressive dealing with technology companies to try to ensure they are not treated as an afterthought. It is also unclear whether Apple, which has been working on iCloud for more than a year, plans to completely replace an existing offering called MobileMe. That Web-based service lets users store data in a central location and synchronize calendars and contacts among computers and other devices. MobileMe costs $99 a year. Apple on Tuesday also made available its iWork productivity suite, which includes its word processing, presentation and spreadsheet software, for the iPhone and iPod touch. Previously the software was only available for its computers and iPad. The move would let users more easily centralize their documents and access them from any device when iCloud launches. Absent from Apple's news release Tuesday, however, was any mention of a new iPhone model, which the company usually introduces at its developers conference, leading some analysts to speculate there may not be one this time.

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