As the world becomes more connected there are two core capabilities critical for digital media services.: ease of use and accessibility.
Ease of Use: Consumers have choice…lots of choice. Products and services have to be easy to use. If they are not, a consumer will not only not use that product, they will immediately alert the world via Twitter, Facebook and every other real-time communication device just how lousy said product is.
Accessibility: With multiple connected devices and fairly complete wireless and 3G infrastructure, consumers expect to access their content where ever and whenever they want – across any device, on any platform, at any time.
The first generation of digital music services failed miserably in both departments. Online subscription and download services were cumbersome, confusing and bloated with DRM (digital rights management) that tied your music to one single device (maybe up to 3 if you were lucky).
Then Apple came around and changed the world with the iPod/iTunes platform. They nailed “easy to use” no doubt about it. BUT, they were still short on ‘accessibility”. FairPlay DRM chained you to your iPod or the PC you had tethered it to. You couldn’t take your music with you to another device, you couldn’t buy music from other services, and god forbid you ever replaced your desktop.
There was an epic battle as advocacy groups fought long and hard against DRM. After multiple stutter starts, Amazon stepped up and launched their DRM-free MP3-format store. Apple eventually caved and followed suit offering DRM-free downloads from iTunes. Now music could be downloaded and played on any device anywhere as long as you could physically transfer those files from one device to another.
Now, if only there was a way one could access their music library anywhere, from any device WITHOUT having to sync up devices or transfer files. Enter Amazon again this spring with the Cloud Drive, and then Google with Music Beta, both offering cloud-based storage lockers that allow you to upload your entire library and access it from any browser (mobile or PC) and a host of applications. [see related post]. FINALLY, we are starting to reach the pinnacle of easy-to-use and accessible.
Then, Apple comes out and announces iCloud and iTunes Match, which will make your entire library available in the cloud, without even having to upload anything. BAM – instant anywhere, anytime access and the tech blog crowd goes wild. But what most people have failed to mention is that the new service, after moving you into the cloud, will only work on an iOS device (it will work on limited non-Apple desktops, but only Apple mobile/portable devices). Essentially locking you right back to your Apple device and taking a step backwards for true portability.
Now, from a business stand point, this is great for Apple. Apple is excellent at subtly locking you into the i-ecosystem, driving you to buy more and more hardware. iTunes has never been a major profit driver and they would have no incentive to offer the service (and build a billion dollar data center to enable it) if it didn’t drive more hardware sales.
So strategically, a great step forward for Apple. For consumers…still a step forward from the current iTunes setup, but a set back from the progress made by Amazon and Google.