Send in the Clouds: Sometimes Music's Future Looks Like It Oughta



Slate ran this piece Friday about how Google's Android is about to become completely untethered — meaning unlike iPhoners, soon Android users will be able to buy music and apps and stuff on any computer, and have that show up on their phones automatically. Anyone who uses an iPhone knows that having to plug in so often to coordinate music and stuff is one of the shittiest things about dealing with iTunes. As author Farhood Manjoo explains, iTunes is slow and clunky; it's got a bazillion updates a month; those updates take forever. And syncing your phone is so fucking yesterday. It's just a big old bitch on her period who happens to still wear relaxed-fit jeans. But seriously, doesn't it seem like it should be so much easier than it is to listen to the music you bought and move it around on all the devices you also bought? I have multiple advanced degrees* and a keen intellect, and I still don't really understand how to manage music files on more than one computer as it relates to syncing. Or, as Manjoo puts it, "It's 2010 — why do I have to plug anything into anything to get files from my computer onto my phone?" My thoughts exactly. Enter "the cloud."

The cloud is that big vast fluffy virtual mass o' hard drive in the sky; the idea that you ought to be able to get everything on all your devices without plugging into anything by getting your devices to communicate with each other effortlessly, or at least by only installing one simple little app in one place. It's precisely the sort of futuristic idea it seems we should have figured out long, long ago.

Once the files are online, your phone will have access to your entire music library whenever you've got an Internet connection. In [Google exec Vic] Gundotra's demo, the system worked very well: Even though the music doesn't live on your phone, it behaves exactly as if it does—it even includes album art. You press play and the song starts in seconds.

Gundotra didn't say when this feature will become available, but for Google's sake, I hope it's very soon. That's because Apple also seems bent on building what's been called "iTunes for the cloud." Last year it acquired the music-streaming service Lala, seemingly a prelude to Apple launching some manner of Web-based iTunes. I'm guessing that will happen this summer, when the company releases a new iPhone.

We talked about Lala's fate here — Cream curmudgeon Adam Gold referred to it as a bitch-slap by Steve Jobs. At any rate, the cloud isn't all warm, cumulus hugs:

There are advantages and disadvantages to getting your music from the cloud rather than through syncing. The cloud gives you unlimited space: If you have 200 GB of music at home, you can get it all, even if your phone only holds 32 gigs. But streaming requires an Internet connection. The wireless Internet is getting better all the time — especially as carriers move to faster "4G networks" — but it's still hit or miss, and you won't be able to stream your songs in the subway or on out-of-the-way road trips (or — if you live in San Francisco and use an iPhone — outside your house).

The question that concerns music listeners is, of course, how the industry will bumblingly scramble to restrict this transfer of files. As always, they'll inevitably find a way to ruin the cool party blazing into the night, but at least we can count on it taking awhile before they even realize it's happening.

* Just kiddin'.

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