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Is Apple Closer to Launching its Music Locker?

Apple may be getting closer to launching its cloud-based music "locker" service, as reports indicate that the company has sealed a deal with Warner Music Group and is now using that agreement to entice other labels to jump on board. There are also reports that the service will cost $20 per year, and may even launch as part of Apple's revamped MobileMe service slated to arrive next month.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that Apple was in negotiations with Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, EMI Group Ltd and Warner Music Group to set up a service that will take an "unlimited" download approach. In other words, consumers would purchase music from iTunes and virtually store the files in a cloud-based "locker." Thus, these files could be re-downloaded wirelessly if the previous tracks stored on a PC, iPhone or other device are damaged or lost-- as long as the devices are linked to the same iTunes account.

Then last week brought reports that Apple will close the current MobileMe service next month but will continue to offer support over the next year. The new version, rumored to immediately take its place, will reportedly be free save for the $20 yearly fee for the music locker. There are also reports that users will be able to store photos and videos without having to shell out additional fees.

Looking at the big picture, it's highly possible the $20 yearly fee (which very well could be monthly instead) would serve more as an insurance premium on digital music purchased through iTunes. As it stands now, consumers must either re-purchase lost content and re-sync back to iOS devices linked to the iTunes account, or call Apple's customer support and present a convincing case to regain the lost digital content. For a fee, consumers could re-download wirelessly without all the hassle or purchasing the content again.

Also, the fact that reports haven't mentioned anything about Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox and other Hollywood names suggest that the $20 fee doesn't insure movie and TV episode purchases. Still, that would be handy given that disc and flash-based storage solutions aren't 100-percent guaranteed, and that consumers need a secure place to store those large, expensive HD video files.

As previously mentioned, the revamped MobileMe service is expected to be revealed soon, and several months before WWDC11 which will likely take place in mid-June. Then again, Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference seems like the ideal place to reveal a new cloud-based service, no?