Want to take your whole iTunes music library on the road — even the stuff that doesn’t fit on your 8-gigabyte iPhone? Apple (AAPL) is supposedly on the case: According to AppleInsider, a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office details a new version of Apple’s iPhone software that could give you access to your home computer’s iTunes library, over the air, from anywhere.
There’s no guarantee this will ever happen. But if it does, it’d be great news for consumers, whose portable music selection is currently limited by the relatively small hard drives in Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch. And it’s a no-brainer for Apple — one more reason for someone to buy an iPhone instead of a competing phone.
Where could Apple run into trouble? Its carrier partners, which Apple relies on for distribution, would want to get something out of the service. Transferring music files over the air is a relatively high-bandwidth activity. Moreover, carriers are expecting to offer some sort of version of this themselves — see Nokia’s “Comes With Music” plan — for a fee.
So if Apple could get consumers to pay extra for this — say, another $5-$10 per month on top of their wireless plan or MobileMe subscription — and split that somehow with the carrier, it’s an easy win-win. If not — Apple has a habit of leaving its carrier partners out of the value chain; see iPhone ringtones and app downloads — the carriers aren’t going to be thrilled.
But this would be a disaster for the music industry, which has high hopes to someday make a business selling music to mobile phone subscribers. The Apple plan would basically cut them out of that equation, and they don’t have any leverage to get themselves back in the picture. As it is, the labels continue to lament the sad state of their mobile efforts: Warner Music Group again reported this week that its mobile business “remains soft” in the U.S., with ringtone sales flat and “lagging” expectations.
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