Apple’s Music iCloud has a Hole

Apple announced iCloud yesterday, and what Steve Jobs announced uncharacteristically failed to include the value and ease of use that Apple typically delivers.

First – what did Apple announce?  iCloud is a system of providing information anywhere – regardless of what device we are using or where we are physically located.  It is integrated into Mac OS X Lion (available in July) and into iOS 5 (available in the fall).  One small slice of iCloud is available immediately – a piece of the iCloud offering that extends our music collections.

Up until now, a computer (Mac or PC) controlled the music collection with Apple’s iTunes software.  Music could be copied onto iDevices by syncing them with the computer.  It worked pretty well as long as we were very careful to keep one computer as the master media server and if we both synced regularly and backed up the collection regularly.

With iCloud, the need to regularly back up the collection goes away.  At last, Apple will allow us to do something that we should have been able to do all along – download again songs that we purchased in the past.  That means that we can download our purchased collection of music onto a second computer, a third computer, etc (up to ten devices) directly from Apple’s servers.  That is a nice service, and I am sure that my daughters, especially, will be happy to be able to have a copy of the family music library (or a subset of it) on their computers.

This “multiple download” service is also a way to get music onto an iDevice without connecting it to the computer acting as a media server and syncing.  Just go to the iTunes app on the iDevice, navigate to purchased music, and directly download the album or track onto the device.  I played with it last night.  It is nice, and it works as described.

Two caveats popped into my mind, however.  First – I don’t know of any way that songs can be deleted directly on an iDevice (if you do, please share in the comments section and I will update this post).  That means that an iDevice will become full over time unless it connects to a computer at some point to sync and remove some portion of the tracks.  So, the cord is not really cut, after all.

Second, if I am out and about and suddenly want to hear a track of music, I want to hear it NOW – not after it downloads.  That means streaming, and Apple did NOT include streaming in the iCloud music offering.  Amazon has it, and Google has it, but not Apple.  This is a huge hole in the iCloud and it may have me shifting my music collection over to Amazon’s locker.

The drawback of both Amazon and Google is that it can take weeks to upload an entire music collection into their cloud services, while Apple has the very slick ability to see what we own and match it to the same track that they already have on their servers.  So the only tracks that need to be uploaded are the rare tracks that Apple does not already have.  This is a great advantage for Apple over the other services, but it is only an advantage once – when deciding what service to use.

Allowing streaming rather than only downloads is an advantege of the non-Apple services every time you want to listen to a track of music.  I hope that the lack of streaming is not an obligation imposed by the music companies and that Apple corrects the hole in iCloud soon.


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