Apple unveils iCloud service

Late to the party but iTunes Music Match will hurt rivals
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Apple chief Steve Jobs returned from medical leave to present a set of cloud services called iCloud at the firm's worldwide developer conference.

In typical Apple style, the firm billed the new iCloud service as a breakthrough despite the iPhone maker being late to the cloud revolution compared to rivals. Apple billed iCloud as a way to store content in the iCloud and automatically and wirelessly push it to the firm's range of iOS devices.

"Today it is a real hassle and very frustrating to keep all your information and content up-to-date across all your devices," said Jobs, ignoring the host of cloud storage solutions such as Drop Box and Google Docs.

"iCloud keeps your important information and content up to date across all your devices," he continued. "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."

iCloud includes the previous MobileMe service which previously handled cloud synchronisation of contacts, calendar entries and email. MobileMe had been 're-architected', Apple said, to work seamlessly with iCloud.

In a highly welcome development, Apple's App Store will now make content available on multiple iOS devices and the firm has finally gotten around to providing the user purchase history information.

"Simply tapping the iCloud icon will download any apps and books to any iOS device (up to 10 devices) at no additional cost," Apple said in a release.

Backup functionality has also been incorporated into iCloud with the company providing 5GB of storage which may also be used for mail and documents. Purchased music, apps and books don't cloud towards the 5GB storage limit.

Similarly iCloud's Photo Stream service, which makes photos taken on any iOS device easily sharable with other devices, will also not consume the 5GB quota. Instead Photo Stream will make every image taken available in the iCloud for 30 days.

The most unique aspect of iCloud, however, is the firm's much discussed music streaming service. Unlike rivals Google and Amazon, Apple successfully obtained licensing agreements with the four major record labels. The result is a service which will scan the user's own music, legitimate or not, and replace the songs with 256 kbps AAC 'DRM-free' versions.

Apple rightly trumpet the benefit of the approach which avoids needing to upload gigabytes of Mp3s but rather can simply scan the user's music collection and unlock the high quality music 'in minutes'.

Apple announced a beta version of iTunes in the Cloud but the iTunes Match feature will cost $24.99 a year when it launches in the 'fall'. The agreement with record labels represents a coup for Apple and signals a realisation among the music industry that the benefits of convenience may do more to bring former music pirates on board than previous tactics.

The firm said it has invested over half a billion dollars in data centres in order to support the new iCloud service.

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