iCloud launch prompts speculation frenzy

That Apple will unleash its much-rumoured iCloud is now certain, but the rumour mill is clanking away in a manner that only the iPod maker can create.

The company's legendary secrecy seems to have failed somewhat in recent months with unsubstantiated leaks about record company sign-ups coming thick and fast, but there can be little doubt that a launch without all of the Big Four music industry titans on board would never have been an option.

Today's tattle suggests that Universal has finally joined EMI, Sony and Warner in a deal reputed to be worth $150 million (£92 million) - and that's just for starters. Little is known about how copyright owners will be compensated for music that's already included in people's existing iTunes libraries, but Apple is said to be taking its usual 30 per cent cut of new iTunes sales with 58 per cent going to record companies and artists, and 12 per cent to publishers.

Most pundits are predicting that using iCloud's servers will be free for the first year, with a $25 per year subscription kicking in after that.

Apple revolutionised the way we all buy music with the launch of the iTunes Store back in April 2003, the first commercial successful and legal way to buy digital music. Apple is now the biggest music retailer on the planet and the launch of iCloud, which will allow users to listen to the music they own - as well as that obtained by more nefarious means if the service works the way we think it will - on any device.

Apple has already made a massive investment in the future of iCloud having built a giant data centre in North Carolina to cancel the traffic. A recent patent application filed by the company describes a method of storing a small portion of each song on the host device which would allow music to start playing instantaneously while the rest of the track is downloaded from the central servers in the background. We reckon it's odds on that this will be part of iCloud.

Steve Jobs will unveil the truth behind iCloud at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference next Wednesday June 6th - and we'll be live blogging the event.

Apple will also make announcements about the next version of its desktop OSX, called lion, and version 5 of the iOS mobile operating system.

With all of this new software in the offing, it's pretty much certain that no new hardware will be showcased at the Apple event, but Mr Jobs does so love his 'One more thing' announcements, so nothing is set in stone.

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