As details of their deals with major American record labels leak in the lead-up to June’s WWDC, Apple has filed a patent revealing long-rumored plans of a cloud-based iTunes streaming service.
The patent calls for a wireless media syncing service between a “Host Device” (ie. home computer), Electronic Device (iPhone/iPad/iPod) and a content source (iTunes).
In the patented (and currently theoretical) system, portions of cloud-stored files are stored in a local cache, creating a buffer that enables a seamless streaming experience. When a user clicks on a song, the first few seconds begin playing immediately from a local cache, then switch to the cloud stream once the connection to the file is acquired.
Evolver.fm makes the (valid) point that Pandora and Spotify have already been using similar strategies to make their streaming services as seamless as possible. It’s not perfect, but with the current state of bandwidth (and the wireless carriers’ draconian methods of punishing heavy data users), it definitely seems like the most efficient way to stream an entire library. Millions of Pandora and Spotify users most likely agree.
Unusually large music libraries could possibly be limited by local device storage. Not only can portions of data from the beginning of each track be stored, but even randomly selected or even “important” portions (ie. authentication tokens). Just like they limit the number of users you can connect to your Home Share on iTunes, Apple also has plans in place to prevent you from having your whole block streaming your music collection.
One thing that isn’t mentioned in the patent is remote Web access. If the files are stored on the cloud, users should theoretically be able to access them from any device or computer, regardless of whether or not iTunes is installed. It’s a feature of both the Amazon player and Google Music beta. It’s doubtful Apple would include this feature, which would require the development of a brand new Web interface to access and play music files independent of iTunes. Apple would much rather just sell you an iPhone and have you play your music from there.
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