iCloud speculation

Apple surprised many fans today by pre-announcing iCloud, and I’m eager to see what it will be. The press release mentions iCloud by name, calling it “Apple’s upcoming cloud services offering.” Here are a few thoughts on what it could be, and what I’d love to see.

Video Wishful Thinking

“Cloud services” implies more than music. Shawn Blanc listed some likely features, but I’m going to focus on video and audio streaming. Not because I believe that’s the thrust of Apple’s plans, but because it’s something I wished for two years ago.

Plain and simple: I watch movies and TV shows on my iPad via Netflix several times per week. Conversely, I watched a movie rented from iTunes on my iPad once. The reason is cost. For $7/mo., Netflix lets me  watch as much as I want. It’s easy, convenient and feels like a real value, as I seemingly get a lot for my money. If I watch one movie per day for a month, I’ve seen 30 movies for seven bucks.

Meanwhile, the iPad [1. And to a larger extent the Apple TV] is a storefront for iTunes. I must pay for every movie or TV show individually. If I rent two HD movies from iTunes, I’ve exceeded the price of 30 movies watched via Netflix. No, they’re not HD and yadda yadda, thanks for pointing that out. The average consumer doesn’t care about that. At all. They want the Blue Light Special, not a white-gloved concierge.

When I reviewed the original Apple TV, I wished for streaming access to my entire iTunes video purchase history:

“If Apple charged me X amount of money per month and gave me unlimited access to their library of television and movies from any approved device, including Macs, iPhones, iPods and, of course, Apple TVs, I’d be a happy customer. Yes, I want to have my music files physically on my hard disk. But if the shows and movies I want to watch all lived on a server farm in Cupertino, that’d be fine with me.

I’d save a lot of disk space. There’d be nothing to sync, or forget to sync, before a vacation. I wouldn’t have to cough up three bucks just to watch The Office, and and Apple would maintain its revenue stream.”

TV show rentals didn’t exist then, so that cost has decreased. Also, I’ve changed my mind about music. Today I don’t care if I’ve got physical files on a drive. I’ve been enjoying Rdio for a few weeks.

Imagine the benefit for video. No more syncing, time-consuming downloads or space-hogging files. When I bought all 5 season of Battlestar Galactica, my MacBook Pro bulged as iTunes sent both HD and SD version of every episode. I had to buy an external disk.

Music

Apple has my purchase history, of course. Perhaps a scan of my records could match the results with files on Apple’s streaming servers. Pair that convenience with the rumor of locally-stored “snippets” (typically the first few seconds of songs) and you’ve potentially got a solution to the lags that have annoyed users of Google Music Beta and Amazon’s Cloud Drive. Additionally, Apple has reportedly signed licensing agreements with EMI Music, Warner Music, and Sony Music; something Google and Amazon can’t say.

Cost

It won’t be free, as Apple likely paid dearly for the licensing. This is where it gets tricky. Will MobileMe be retooled completely into iCloud, with an all-new pay structure and features? Or will a separate X-per-month provide access to the cloud-based goodies. I’ve no idea. I can’t wait to find out.