June 6, 2011, 1:31 PM

Apple unveils a media storage service for consumers

With iCloud, Apple follows the lead of Amazon and Google.

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Apple Inc. today unveiled its iCloud service at its Worldwide Developers Conference. The iCloud is a web-based storage and streaming service for consumers. The service allows consumers to store online via remote servers their music and media files, such as their Apple iTunes libraries, and access that content from web-enabled devices. It also includes apps for Apple's e-mail, calendar and contacts programs.

Apple is following the lead of Amazon.com and Google Inc., which have recently introduced their own cloud-based storage systems. Amazon.com’s Cloud Drive enables customers to store up to five gigabytes, or more than 80 hours, of their own MP3 digital music files in Cloud Drive accounts for free. Consumers also can use their Cloud Drive accounts to store photos, videos or documents and digital music bought from Amazon.

Meanwhile, Google is testing Google Music, which allows consumers to upload up to 20,000 songs stored on their computers to the Internet and listen to them on up to eight devices, including Windows and Apple computers and Android-based mobile phones and tablet computers. Consumers cannot yet buy music through Google Music because the company says it could not reach an agreement with music labels on licensing rights.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs also described how the company's market-leading music store iTunes interacts with the cloud. iCloud users' iTunes purchases are stored on the cloud and sync to their applicable devices; this also applies to iTunes purchases that pre-date the iCloud. Consumers who want access to their non-iTunes purchased music library, such as music ripped from a personal CD collection, can opt to use iTunes Match. iTunes Match is a software that will scan a consumer's iTunes library, find matches within the iTunes database and make them available on devices via iCloud. Jobs says this eliminates consumers from having to upload their music collections en masse, which Jobs says can take weeks. iTunes Match costs $24.99 annually for unlimited storage. The iTunes Match functionality differs from Google Music and Amazon's Cloud Drive, both of which require consumers to upload their music files.  

 “The iCloud will be the latest iteration of Apple coming to market after others, but again, with a better experience,” says Mark Moskowitz, executive director with investment firm JP Morgan. He says the iCloud service appears to have more support from such content providers as music labels. “We think that this competitive advantage will help Apple separate its cloud offering from the pack when compared to the nascent offerings from Amazon and Google.”

Apple, through iTunes, controls about 70% of the digital music market, according to investment firm Lazard Capital Markets. Apple Inc. is No. 3 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide. Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

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