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Apple Closer to Launching Cloud Music Service

Apple is reportedly a step closer to launching its cloud-based music service thanks to a signed agreement with EMI Music. The news follows a similar deal struck with Warner Music Group last month and additional insider reports that the upcoming Apple service will be better than Google and Amazon's current offering.

With Warner and EMI under its belt, Apple still needs to strike a deal with Sony Music Group and Universal Music Group if the company plans to reveal/launch the cloud service next month. Sources claim that negotiations with the two record labels should be wrapped up as early as next week, just in time for Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference on June 6.

Last week industry insiders said that Apple's service will be superior because Google and Amazon were either unwilling or unable to to obtain proper licenses from the four major record labels. They "tiptoed" around copyright issues and rushed the services out the door. Because of this, Apple's service will have a larger range of options although sources wouldn't specificity what those options would contain.

Amazon was the first out the door with its Cloud Player at the end of March, allowing Amazon customers to purchase and store music on its servers. Users initially have 5 GB of storage to upload their music from a PC or Mac -- upgrading the account to 20 GB costs an annual $20, 50 GB for $50, 100 GB for $100 and so on. Google's Music Beta service is currently by invitation only, but those granted access can store up to 20,000 songs for free until the "beta" is lifted from the name. Both services can be streamed to an Android device, desktop, notebook and other connected device.

Sources claim that Apple's new service will be feature-packed, offering exclusive services that weren't approved for rival offerings. According to the unnamed sources, Apple's service will scan the user's hard drive to see what songs they own and then offer almost-instant streaming access to the master recordings. Although this "scan and match" process sounds more like a disguised anti-piracy tool endorsed by the RIAA, the music service Lala (which Apple acquired back in 2009) made this specific process quite popular.

The record companies are actually banking on Apple's success, hoping that users will flock to Apple and force Google and Amazon to re-negotiate licensing deals to offer more features. What's questionable however is whether music lovers will even gravitate to cloud-based music storage, as music services like Rdio and Slacker offer monthly subscription plans that provide a seemingly limitless amount of music to stream to the PC, Mac and mobile devices -- Slacker will even cache content for listening offline. If consumers are forced to pay monthly subscription fees, why not get access to everything over the last four decades?

Still, whether it's cloud-based music storage or unlimited, on-demand music, once subscriptions run dry (non-payment, etc), the music is gone. Consumers may eventually get annoyed with the whole storage/on-demand process and stick with ripping their favorite CDs onto the hard drive, iPhone or other mobile devices. But like the iPhone, maybe Apple will change the way consumers look at cloud storage and on-demand services. We'll see in just a few short weeks.