iTunes for iCloud: Could Apple media become ubiquitous on the web?

iTunes for iCloud: Could Apple media become ubiquitous on the web?

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.

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?

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.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 27 comments. Add yours.

JovanG1287 says:

I like this idea thoroughly... So many time I wish to try out other devices just for the experience but not having a convenient way of having media on all of them with out a third party involved. In short... I digz it....

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seandworkman says:

Great article. Personally I would like it but the more I think about it I'm not sure it would change the way I interact with their products much.

johnswilson1 says:

Great idea. One could stream iTunes Radio on PCs at work. Reality is this would increase usage and revenue. Folks don't buy Apple hardware for iTunes. They buy Apple hardware in spite of iTunes.

Bwar Amanj says:

بي حلة

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airjordanxx2 says:

Apple really need to allow us to send gift to friends and family any where in the world, I wish they can bring that soon since now I only can send gift inside of united state.

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zdn1042 says:

I really like the idea of easier access to my iTunes media files. This is great to those people I often hear complaining about iTunes being so confined. And, yes I would also like the ability to send gifts internationally.
Merry Christmas everyone!

Dev from tipb says:

Hollywood constrains Apple more than their competitors?

[citation needed]

Rene Ritchie says:

Hollywood has historically been afraid of Apple doing to them what they perceive was done to the music industry.

Dominance in an industry isn't always a benefit when trying to expand in that industry.

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Dev from tipb says:

Afraid, yes...but still waiting for evidence Hollywood has been *harder* on Apple than competitors. For example, last week Amazon video customers were in an uproar because Disney has made some titles unplayable even by those customers that have previously bought them. iTunes customers are not so impacted.

So where are the data points backing the assertion that Apple has it harder?

GeniusUnleashed says:

Yeah, I got to go with Dev on this one Rene, Google got pretty well bitch slapped by Hollywood when they tried to release Google TV the first time. I think Hollywood is keeping most online vendors at bay as long as they can...which will be their ultimate downfall.

Rene Ritchie says:

That's a fair point, though I'd argue a different one: Google didn't bother to work with Hollywood, Apple seems to be trying to. They have yet to attempt something like the Google TV end-run.

Dev from tipb says:

Definitely true there -- Google created a technological means to play content without clearing it through the business folks first, and got slapped accordingly. Apple prudently did not go that route, knowing they would have been slapped equally hard.

In that sense, Hollywood does not have any particular bias against Apple or against Google in that sense -- they will slap anybody who goes against their interests (even if as consumers we'd like them to wise up in many cases). I could certainly see an anti-Apple bias occurring in the future if the iTunes store becomes a hugely significant distribution channel, simply because they will be afraid of a single company owning a chokepoint between them and their customers, but I don't think there have been any punitive or retaliatory measures yet.

GeniusUnleashed says:

Hollywood has very lucrative deals with cable providers and batching channels together. I think that's why both Google and Apple are having so much trouble with throwing channels onto a streaming box.

Rene Ritchie says:

Apple users were effected by the same thing earlier this year, I believe. Disney later claimed it was an error.

Most labels allowed DRM-free on most services before Apple. Streaming to devices was allowed on non-iPhone, iPad devices before it was on iOS.

I'm not sure what's controversial or difficult to understand about the situation. Anyone who's followed any of the articles about Apple's attempts at locker and streaming services would easily be familiar with the politics, which I'm fairly certain you are :)

Dev from tipb says:

It's not that it is difficult to understand -- I am simply interested in seeing specific cases where Hollywood has treated Apple more harshly than competitors, as was originally asserted, because I honestly have not seen that, but like to consider myself willing to learn and change my position in the face of new evidence.

asuperstarr says:

This would be a great feature. iTunes everywhere is not a bad idea. Great article.

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Galley says:

I would love to be able to access my 65,000 track iTunes library from anywhere, but iTunes Match isn't available for huge libraries like mine.

yashendra2797 says:

What I want more than this is iTunes Match for all my content, including movies, TV shows and of course, music... This is because of the fact that I have nearly 1.4 TB+ worth of TV shows alone...

xianshell says:

I'd certainly buy more video content if I could stream rather than having to fuss with syncing and storage management.

SockRolid says:

"Yet most of Apple's competition is native to, or has long since gone to the web. Netflix has online. Amazon. Google."

Netflix - monthly subscription revenue.
Amazon - content rental / purchase revenue (and of course retail sales).
Google - advertising revenue.

Apple will probably eventually need to evolve their business model into a mostly content- and services-focused model. Hardware gets cheaper and cheaper over the decades, and eventually even a 30% margin won't be enough to keep their revenue stream up. Apple will need to gradually ramp up their content subscription / rental / purchase revenue to prepare for that future.

Having said all that, there's no hurry. Apple is positioned exactly where they want to be, in terms of hardware revenue in mobile and legacy laptop / desktop computing revenue. And they're already slowly migrating toward their inevitable content- and services-centric future. All the pieces are in place. Look at iTunes Festival for a sneak peek at Apple's future: live HD concerts and archived performances flawlessly streamed to any Apple device. And Apple has iAd for ad revenue if and when it's necessary. Just a matter of time.

B_J_A says:

iTunes isn't terrible on Windows, it was when it was first released but it's on par with the mac version now. It wouldn't so Apple any favours to release a bad windows port of iTunes because it wouldn't be a good advertisement for the Apple platform for potential switchers.

Jay Mobile says:

Apple first needs to expand its free iCloud storage limit to at least 15GBs. The majority of iTunes user will use well in excess of this just on their music alone .

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CORYK333 says:

iTunes Match doesn't count against your iCloud storage......there's only a song limit. 25,000 if I'm not mistaken, so music isn't really the problem. While I agree that we should get more free space, I feel we should get it a different way. IMO, they should give people 5gbs free per device registered to the iCloud account, not 5 free per account. Reasoning is that multiple device owners obviously have more backups & data to back up than a user with only 1 device, so it only makes sense (to me). Multiple device owners have given more $$$$ to the company than the single device owner, so why should he/she have to pay MORE to backup those devices? (Rhetorical)

impaler says:

Web-based iTunes needs to happen. Period. Any other option will not work long-term.

felface says:

it sounds like what you're describing is iTunes match all your music tv shows and films stored in the cloud and able to play at any time on any device connected to the internet iTunes in the cloud is already a thing it's just sent straight to your device instead of being on a website

mariobros27772 says:

Would love to see all of Apple's services in the Cloud, like Messages and FaceTime, along with iTunes.

LefD says:

Isn't this a job for iTunes Match?