You wait for years for cloud music services to come along and then three come along at once. Yes Apple has finally revealed the details of its iCloud music service as Amazon and Google had done in recent weeks – except iCloud offers a whole lot more and all for free – well sort of.
Lets start at the beginning. Apple guru Steve Jobs took to the stage today at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco to reveal the iCloud service which “stores your content in the cloud and wirelessly pushes it to all your devices. It automatically uploads it, stores it, and pushes it to all your devices. iCloud keeps your important information and content up to date across all your devices. All of this happens automatically and wirelessly, and because it’s integrated into our apps you don’t even need to think about it—it all just works.” Nine apps will help you organise all your data in the cloud from the three core MobileMe apps (a service which is now dead) for contacts, mail and calender to new apps for documents, photos and of course music.
The Contacts, Calendar and Mail apps from MobileMe have been rebuilt to work with iCloud and users can share calendars with friends and family, and the ad-free push Mail account is hosted at me.com. Your inbox and mailboxes are kept up-to-date across all your iOS devices and computers. iCloud apps for the App Store and iBooks work in the very same way, syncing content from one iOS device to another without you having to do a thing. You can download any app or book to all your iOS devices (well up to 10 devices anyway) at no extra cost. iCloud Backup automatically and securely backs up your iOS devices to iCloud daily over Wi-Fi when you charge your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Backed up content includes purchased music, apps and books, photos and videos, device settings and app data. If you replace your iOS device, just enter your Apple ID and password during setup and iCloud restores your new device.
Documents in the Cloud will sync work from Pages, Keynote and Numbers seamlessly. Photo Stream is a way for you to access photos taken on your iPhone back on your Mac through iPhoto or should you not own a Mac, you can even access them though the Pictures folder on a PC. Take a picture on your iPhone and it appears seamlessly on your laptop or iPad and is stored in the cloud for 30 days. If you want to keep the picture permanently, simply place it in an album. You can even get Photo Stream on Apple TV so you can look at your photos on a larger screen. The iTunes app will let you download music you’ve already purchased on your iPhone to your iPad or iPod touch or vice versa – for no extra fee. In the future all new music you buy will be downloaded to up to ten iDevices at the touch of a button - again for now extra fee.
If that wasn’t enough, (and as cloud-based music services go, it certainly wasn’t) Steve saved the most interesting announcement for the “One more thing” part of his speech. iTunes Match is a $25-a-year service which scans your iTunes library and having recognized all the tracks will create a mirror collection in iTunes in the Cloud. So all music bought from iTunes as well as music ripped from CDs will be available to you wherever you go, in handy 256Kbps AAC, DRM-free files. Any files not in the iTunes library of 18 million tracks can be uploaded manually. This should mean uploading your music collection to the cloud should take minutes rather than weeks. There's no indication of a UK price yet for the service or indeed if it will be available everywhere in the world, but we’ve our fingers crossed.
In an attempt to convince us that Apple sees iCloud as the future, Jobs displayed a few photos of Apple’s latest $500 million data centre in North Carolina, which made all the developers in attendance go weak at the knees. The iCloud beta and Cloud Storage APIs are available immediately to iOS and Mac Developer Program members and iCloud will be available this autumn concurrent with iOS 5. Users can sign up for iCloud for free on an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch running iOS 5 or a Mac running Mac OS X Lion with a valid Apple ID. iCloud includes 5GB of free cloud storage for Mail, Document Storage and Backup. Purchased music, apps, books and Photo Stream do not count against the storage limit.
Update: Apple has confirmed to us that the iTunes Match service will be in the US only at the moment and international roll out has not been announced yet - which we take to mean it will be at some stage. Fingers crossed.