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Apple’s “iCloud” – Please help me cut the cord

May 25, 2011

Amazon and Google are offering seemingly weird solutions where I copy my music library up to them, and then play it back. Even with the best de-deduping SAN available, this seems like a terribly inefficient and old-school way to handle this.  They are basically storing a copy of every song for every person who owns it, wasting tons of disk space, and creating a mess of cloud storage.  For music.

I get that the technology-phobic RIAA keeps trying to make everyone live in an analog world, and without the proper license agreements, the one-copy-for-every-person is a reasonable way around it. But this is still all a joke, or some silly intirim step, right?

What I mean is, hasn’t this problem been solved already?  Like, years ago?  With services like Rhapsody, Spotify, Mog, Rdio, and others, we can already get nearly all the music we want, when we want it, on demand, on any device, for a relatively small monthly fee.  Sure, it’s not everything-everything, but when each of these providers has in the 10-million-plus range of songs, I think they probably have enough music for most people, right?

I guess I’m saying – music isn’t really the problem here.  That’s been solved, and now we just need to refine it.  I’m hopeful Apple’s solution will be better than the silliness that Google and Amazon offered, if for no other reason than they’ll have the license agreements in place.  But even if it is – so what?

The real issue is video.  Yes, video.

The whole model of the DVR (sorry, TiVo), is nearly dead.  It’s absurd to make everyone who wants to time-shift a TV show have to record it on a little hard drive in each of their houses.  It’s the same data, recorded millions of times.  What a waste!

Instead, it should be recorded once “in the cloud”, and then anyone who wants to watch it can simply stream it from the source.  One set of bits (cached, of course).

Does this sounds like Hulu, and Netflix, and others?  Well, it is.  That model is moving in the right direction.  And as the media player devices get better, it’s even more practical.  Roku, AppleTV, GoogleTV, Popcorn Hour, Boxee, and the list goes on and on…

The problem is that the existing set of streaming service providers don’t have a complete (enough) set of current content.  Netflix content is almost by definition a year old or longer in most cases.  Hulu has a very limited set of networks (when you factor in cable), and the commercials and playback are like going backwards 10 years.

Then we have Amazon and iTunes.  Amazon has a lot of good movies, but they haven’t yet penetrated the streaming media player market.  You can get them on devices like a TiVo, but it’s a fairly painful experience, and it’s really a supplement to my cable company, not a replacement.  Apple’s iTunes is the closest to a complete set of content, across all broadcast and cable networks, movies and television shows, with nearly real-time updates (usually within 24 hours of airing live, often same-day).

The problem is there’s no easy way to get that iTunes content to my TV.  The AppleTV Internet streaming is for rentals only, and there is such a small amount of content available for rentals, it’s barely worth using for that.  And for buying content, you have to jump through some crazy hoops – first downloading it to a local iTunes client, then enabling home-sharing on iTunes and the AppleTV, then streaming from the local iTunes to the AppleTV.  And if you want to take advantage of things like a Season Pass, it gets even messier.  And the local storage requirements get crazy since you can’t redownload the videos after the first time.

I’m fortunate in that I have a couple of RAID-5 NAS devices, so I have the storage capacity.  But I don’t want to have to store this media locally.  I want Apple to store it for me!

In comes iCloud.  Forget about music, if Apple’s iCloud allows me to buy videos and subscribe to season passes from iTunes, and then stream it from the Apple cloud to my AppleTVs, then I can cancel my cable subscription.  The cost analysis (I’ll post on this later) shows that with season passes through iTunes, even buying everything I watch (and I watch a lot), it’s still hundreds of dollars cheaper a year than cable.  The only barrier is the current requirement for local storage and the somewhat cumbersome local iTunes setup needed.

iCloud with TV and movies, and ideally an interface to buy stuff through the AppleTV, and we have what amounts to a TiVo in the iCloud.  I “schedule” my season passes to shows I want to watch, and when I sit down at my AppleTV, I can immediately see what’s new.  It already works this way for local content, and for podcasts, it just needs to support an iCloud that has my TV and movie purchases in it.  But instead of storing anything locally, Apple just manages it all for me in the iCloud, with access to me (through my authorized account, feel free to DRM like crazy) streamed to my AppleTV, and even perhaps my iTunes client.

What do we lose?  Whatever iTunes doesn’t already have (which is minimal, but it’s missing some significant things), and of course anything live like sports.  But the sports leagues seem to be building their own direct-to-consumer streaming services already, so it’s only a matter of time before sports are a non-issue as well.

So Apple, please help me cut the cable cord, and include iTunes Videos, TV, and Movies in your upcoming iCloud announcement!

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