Apple Tapping Lala Media Team for Cloud-Based iTunes?

With Apple's acquisition of streaming media firm Lala Media last month, speculation about Apple's plans for the company has suggested a number of possible opportunities, including a new iTunes streaming service or simply a "talent" acquisition of Lala's engineers.

In a guest post on TechCrunch today, digital music executive Michael Robertson claims that rather than a traditional subscription-based streaming model, Apple is preparing to allow users to move their existing iTunes libraries into the cloud, allowing streaming to a variety of Internet-connected devices.

An upcoming major revision of iTunes will copy each user's catalog to the net making it available from any browser or net connected ipod/touch/tablet. The Lala upload technology will be bundled into a future iTunes upgrade which will automatically be installed for the 100+ million itunes users with a simple "An upgrade is available. . ." notification dialog box. After installation iTunes will push in the background their entire media library to their personal mobile iTunes area. Once loaded, users will be able to navigate and play their music, videos and playlists from their personal URL using a browser based iTunes experience.

Robertson claims that while Apple could have deployed such a functionality on its own, it decided to pursue Lala in order to speed the process while also adding expertise in the technology to its team.

Apple has been rumored to be including discussion of the next-generation iLife at next week's media event where the company is widely expected to introduce a tablet device, and although iTunes is technically no longer part of the iLife suite, a number of the applications do interface with iTunes media, suggesting that a shift to cloud-based iTunes could have implications for iLife. Today's report, however, does not offer a timeline for Apple's deployment of cloud-based iTunes functionality.

Apple received significantly publicity in mid-2009 for its announcement that it would build a $1 billion data center in North Carolina, scheduled to open sometime this year. While Apple has been silent on its plans for the data center, speculation has suggested that a data center of that size would most likely be targeting to supporting cloud-based services.

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