April 20, 2024

In Unusual Move, Apple Previews New Software Plans

Apple said on Tuesday that it would announce new versions of the software that powers its computers and cellphones, as well as a new Internet service that could connect these devices.

The company gave few details about the service, which it calls iCloud, but analysts think it would allow people to gain access to music, photos and videos over the Internet on multiple Apple devices, without needing to sync those devices. An Internet-based version of iTunes with those features has long been expected, and iCloud comes on the heels of deals between Apple and major recording labels that would allow such a service to go forward.

The announcement is to be made next week by Steven P. Jobs, the chief executive, at Apple’s annual developers conference in San Francisco. Mr. Jobs has been on medical leave since January, though he made a surprise appearance in March to introduce a new iPad.

Apple’s preview, posted on a company Web site, was unusual because it generally takes pains to keep any announcements or details about new products secret until they are formally unveiled. Some commentators on technology blogs were surprised that Apple was apparently not planning to announce a new version of the iPhone. Traditionally, Apple announces new products on a yearly cycle; the iPhone 4 was introduced in June of last year.

“It feels like the first time in quite a while that there hasn’t been any hardware associated with an upcoming Apple announcement,” said Charles S. Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research. “It’s all software related.” Hinting at next week’s software could help the company lower expectations of a new mobile phone release, he said.

Mr. Golvin and other analysts say the next version of the iPhone will probably be released in September or October. The next iPhone is expected to use a chip from Qualcomm that will allow it to work on almost any cellular carrier.

In 2007, Apple released MobileMe, its previous effort at so-called cloud computing, which allows people to share contacts, calendars and e-mail among devices. But MobileMe did not work well, and it is considered a rare failure for Apple. MobileMe has also struggled to gain customers because of its high price of $100 a year; competing products from Google are available free.

The new iCloud service is expected to include revamped features of MobileMe but go further by including music — becoming a so-called cloud-based iTunes.

Apple has signed contracts with Sony Music Entertainment, EMI and the Warner Music Group to license those labels’ recordings, but it is still negotiating with the Universal Music Group, the largest of the four major labels, according to a person briefed on the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deals were private.

While Amazon and Google recently released similar cloud music services, Apple’s is expected to be superior. Google and Amazon have not obtained rights for their services from labels, so they require users to upload their music collections to the cloud. In contrast, Apple’s service is said to scan people’s iTunes libraries and then make the songs in them available on any device.

Prices would be critical in any cloud music service.

“The key question here is pricing, with the only sensible model for a cloud-based service from Apple being subscription-based,” said Mr. Golvin. He also said a cloud-based music service would raise additional questions. “What is the specific benefit Apple is bringing to customers and how will people listen to their music on an airplane or other non-Internet connected space?”

An Apple cloud-based music service has been anticipated since at least 2009, when Apple bought Lala, a start-up company that allowed users to play music they already owned from the Web. Shortly after the deal closed, Apple shut Lala.

Apple has a billion-dollar data center in North Carolina that it has said will handle services like music. It is expected to discuss this at next week’s conference.

Miguel Helft contributed reporting.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=f4d3039d95fdd1cd6f7d4d8dce03b3f0

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