Buried in the release notes of an updated iPhone app is significant new functionality which lets Apple devices stream music from its online storage in a useful manner for the first time. This is in defiance of record labels demands that any streaming service requires a license, but more on that later. First lets examine the new functionality.
Apple recently pushed a new version of their iDisk software. iDisk is Apple’s online storage service similar to Microsoft Skydrive and Google Docs. Quietly mentioned in the release note of version 1.2 is the ability to play music files from remote storage in the background. I say “quietly” because this capability is not among the bullet list of features. Only if you click the “More” button do you see this listed:
* Play audio from your iDisk while using another app
What this means is that for any music files such as MP3 or Apple’s AAC files stored in your iDisk account you can play them on your devices while you use your device for other operations. This makes streaming practical from Apple’s online storage. This new release brings this capability to iPhone, iTouch and iPad. You can stream music to multiple devices simultaneously.
This is not “iTunes in the cloud” but it is definitely moving the Cupertino company in that direction. First off there is no automated way to get all your iTunes music to your iDisk account. To load files to iDisk you have to select individual files and upload them from your browser. (Apple does let you sync Calendars, Contacts, Bookmarks, etc directly from OSX but excludes music files.) Secondly there’s no support for playlists so your iTunes playlist do not work in iDisk. There seems to be no way to play a list of files. Cover art is not supported as well. And while iDisk will cache other files, it will not cache music files. Still it’s not hard to see how Apple is adding features to enable it to support audio in it’s cloud storage business.
One company sure to be miffed at this new capability is Universal Music Group (UMG) the world’s largest music company. They have told net companies who have inquired about offering personal cloud music services that backing up and downloading music files is OK with limitations, but streaming music files requires entering into a license and paying a per stream fee. Apple’s service allows unlimited sharing (no username or password required) and now background streaming – all without a license from the record labels.
Behind the scenes Apple is battling the record labels over licensing issues related to their future cloud based iTunes music service. Their recent actions are defying UMG’s position that any streaming service requires a license. Apple’s actions are testing the limits about what they can do without record labels protesting. If they can store files online and stream them to PCs and portable devices without a license that is the foundation for a cloud based iTunes service. More rounds in this heavy weight battle are sure to be played out in the future especially as our own MP3tunes legal case moves to conclusion and courts decide what online companies can do without a license.