One of the headline features of WWDC 2013 - and of iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks - was iWork in iCloud, a way to share, view, edit, and collaborate on Pages, Keynote, and Numbers documents on the web. It looks great, it works great, and most importantly, it allows Apple - without having to build or maintain separate native apps for each and every alternate platform on the market - to open up their productivity suite beyond iOS and OS X, to make it available to anyone and everyone who has a compatible browser. So, could they do the same thing with iTunes, and with their media suite of music, TV shows, movies, and books?
Here's Apple's pitch:
Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are the best way to be productive on a Mac or iOS device. Now we've brought that productivity to the web — on Mac and PC. The apps make it incredibly easy to work together with people everywhere. And since it's all powered by iCloud, your documents are always up to date on each of your devices.
It's not hard to imagine a similar pitch for media. All your iTunes content, any time and anywhere you want it, always in sync, delivered right to your browser, on any device you're using.
Taking iTunes to the cloud
It isn't a new idea by any stretch of the imagination. Variations on it have been rumored and discussed for years. People inside Apple are incredibly smart, and have the same kinds of use cases, pain points, and conversations as people outside of Apple. It's a very human company. It's also one that makes almost all of its great gobs of money on hardware profits, using things like nearly-exclusive access to iTunes content as driver to sell more of those products. iWork isn't yet significant to Apple's business, certainly not compared to iTunes. Making access to iWork easier costs Apple next to nothing, makes the lives of their existing customers better, and could, potentially, entice new ones who prefer the experience of Apple apps better than whatever they're using. iTunes, although historically operated just above break-even, is something else entirely.
Yet most of Apple's competition is native to, or has long since gone to the web. Netflix has online. Amazon. Google.
I have an iPhone. And iPads. And an Apple TV. I can pretty much watch my iTunes stuff anywhere I want, any time I want, anyway. Thanks to people like me, Apple might not think it matters, or simply that it's not a priority. Inside the bubble of the Apple ecosystem, it probably doesn't, and won't unless and until attraction becomes more important than retention.
It's hard to imagine Apple doing anything that would in any way help their competition, especially Android. Apple did make iTunes for Windows, a horrible app that I've always assumed was revenge for Office Mac, but at the time they needed it to drive the iPod. The importance of Windows is diminishing daily, however. It still rules the desktop, absolutely, but the future is mobile. And, for content, the future is the cloud.
It would take Hollywood buy-in, and they typically seem content to constrain Apple far more than its competitors, but steps forward have already been taken, and likely will continue to be taken. Apple TV has long let you buy and stream straight from the box, no iTunes.app needed. With iOS 7, you can stream right from the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad as well, no more download needed. And, of course, iWork for iCloud shows how much more can still be done.
iTunes Preview already exists on the web, but as the name implies, it's currently impotent in and of itself. The idea of logging in from any compatible browser, however, seeing all my music, movies, TV shows, and books, and being able to play them, from the beginning or from where ever I last left off, immediately, with a tap or a click, is compelling. As would being able to buy or rent more, right there.
Would Apple gain additional customers - and their credit cards - by taking iTunes to iCloud? Or would they simply reduce the friction for those considering changing away from Apple's platforms? Will the answer to both those questions, and their relative importance, be different in the near future?
Buy once, enjoy anywhere
I know, even as a hardcore Apple customer, I'd love that service. I'd love to be able to gift iTunes content to my friends and family - yes, internationally - the way I can Amazon, because I think it's still fundamentally a better experience and I want to share it and show it off.
And the best way for that to happen is iTunes for iCloud.