iCloud rolls in

As expected, Steve Jobs took to the stage at the close of this years WWDC keynote to introduce the highly anticipated iCloud service.

The service overall is pretty appealing, especially as an alternative to the unloved MobileMe (which is now being phased out). It ends up looking something like a combination of Dropbox and Google Docs, allowing ubiquitous sync of all of your stuff between all of your devices.

The big story for S+V readers, of course, is the launch of the new iCloud based iTunes service, Apple's music-industry-approved alternative to the recent offerings from Amazon and Google.

The basic details aren't terribly different from the services announced by those competitors: a cloud-based storage locker for your own music, which you can easily (and in Apple's case, we can safely assume they really mean it) sync across all of your own devices. Apple's stepped up the pressure on pricing (offering 5G of storage free, and thereafter a flat fee of $24.99/year, which'll let you manage an unlimited number of songs via the service), where Amazon charges a dollar per GB over 5 GB. Google's pricing is still to be determined.

The other big selling point for Apple (and this is where the hundreds of millions in licensing fees they're reportedly paid to the major labels come into play) is that you won't necessarily have to spend hours (or days or weeks) uploading your collection to the cloud. An associated service, iTunes Match, will let you scan your collection; music files that Apple already has in its collection (18 million titles and counting, according to Jobs) will be replaced with centrally stored 256 kbps versions. No need to wait, as is currently the case with Google and Amazon.

For most, we suspect these features will make iTunes/iCloud a compelling choice. We at S+V would have liked to see 320 kbps - or even lossless - files available via iMatch, and had Apple implemented Rhapsody/MOG-style streaming in place of (or along with) the push model they've settled on, that really would have gotten us excited. MOG already streams at 320 kbps, and there's no waiting time for uploads OR downloads (iTunes is, however, a significantly cheaper alternative, at $24.99, compared to MOG or Rhapsody at roughly $10/month each, including mobile access).

We're a little hazy about how everything's going to work given the capped data plans Apple's involved in with AT+T and Verizon, and some of the language used in the talk makes us think that sync may well be Wi-Fi only. But that'll all become clearer very soon. The service is available right now as part of iTunes 10.3.

- Michael Berk

(photo via Gizmodo)