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Does Apple Have Big Plans for iTunes?

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After shutting down Lala, Apple may be planning to put your music in the cloud.

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No more hunting for USB cables. No more concerns over a device's storage space. No more emailing 250MB ZIP files to friends, selectively deleting albums to make room for others, or shelling out for higher capacity SD cards.

In the move toward cloud computing, MP3 libraries could be stored online, streamed to laptops and mobile devices, and shared seamlessly with friends.

Microsoft
(MSFT) had made some headway with its Zune players and Zune Pass service, but fell short in marketing and execution. Hope was renewed when Apple (AAPL) acquired Lala last December for $85 million -- giving the service the press and financial backing it needed to deliver a cleaner, more streamlined music library to everyone who owned the most popular MP3 player around. All seemed to be moving in the right direction.

Yesterday, however, Lala users were greeted with a disheartening message posted on the official site. "Lala is shutting down," it read. "The Lala service will be shut down on May 31, 2010. Unfortunately, we are no longer accepting new users." Members can enjoy the promising service only until the end of May and will be able to transfer any remaining credits to the iTunes Store.

At face value, it's a dispiriting end for those hoping for a cloud-based music library in the near future. But hope may not be lost.

While covering Apple's iPad launch in January, the Wall Street Journal relayed some interesting news from an insider:

Apple also has been planning a revamp of its iTunes music service by creating a Web-based version of it that could launch as soon as June, say people familiar with the matter. Tentatively called iTunes.com, the service would allow customers to buy music without going through the specialized iTunes program on computers and iPhones.


Purportedly, the online iTunes will integrate itself with a vast number of websites and allow purchases from the iTunes Store with the click of a button. Think a cross between Amazon (AMZN) and Facebook's "Like" button. Although there's no specific mention of a cloud-based music library, TechCrunch's MG Siegler believes moving iTunes to the cloud is "inevitable." Siegler notes the promise of social-network integration, bulky video file sizes, and the rise of peer-to-peer streaming service Spotify -- as well as its backing by Sony (SNE), Warner (WMG), BMI, and Universal and its compatibility with Android (GOOG) devices -- as some major reasons why Apple would be prompted to push iTunes libraries online.

And how many times has Apple removed an app from the App Store because it conflicted with existing or future Apple technology? Why put Lala's name on something Apple can do on its own?

Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo also points out that Lala's end date occurs a week before the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. Though Diaz doubts that something as groundbreaking as a revamped iTunes would be unveiled without the presence of Steve Jobs to walk us through it, a sneak peek at development isn't out of the realm of possibility.

But whether that happens in a month or a year, there's a good chance Lala's shutdown is indicative of iTunes' big move to the cloud.

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