Apple’s 2009 purchase of Lala sparked speculation over the company’s plans for Lala’s talent and technology. The immediate conclusion was that Apple planned to rework Lala into its own online streaming service that would cost $10 or $15 per month. Other rumors sprouted up, though, saying that users would be able to stream their iTunes downloads to anywhere they’re logged in, possibly including the iPhone and other devices.
Apple likened its long-rumored plans to bring iTunes to the cloud as “insurance.” Instead of cannibalizing its own wildly successful download service by introducing a streaming equivalent, Apple said it plans to make it possible for existing iTunes users to store their music remotely. This would enable them to access their libraries from various devices without having to sync via USB.
OK, so the premise is that Apple will reincarnate the Lala technology as a means to upload and store consumer’s music libraries, making it available — without first syncing to an iTunes PC client — streaming from the cloud to digital devices. It’s been suggested that this Lala locker would become part of a revamped MobileMe, the Apple cloud services product that has no music portfolio at this time.
I’d say the above speculation rings true with an 85% probability, mainly because it makes good business sense for Apple to do this, especially if it (greatly) expands the number of $100 a year MobileMe customers. It’s the razor-blade model all over again.
What I haven’t seen is any skepticism about the ability to implement the idea, and based on my experience, I’m skeptical.
After Apple bought Lala and before the service shut down a year ago, I let Lala upload my iTunes library. All 17,500 tracks. I gave Lala full machine access 24×7, with shared use with me during the business day. It took 18 days to upload my library. [I have no idea what my ISP thought I was doing, but that’s a story for another day.]
So, 1,000 tracks a day on upload, sometimes with the iMac client running 80% CPU utilization.
The technology problem Apple faces using the Lala upload algorithms is that it’s a brute force approach that won’t scale in the real world.
Ignore for a moment the fact that I probably have more music than most people. The technology problem Apple faces using the Lala upload algorithms is that, simply put, it’s a brute force approach that won’t scale in the real world. Rather than using iTunes track metadata against the iTunes library and serving up a duplicate, or using a track digital signature like TuneUp, Lala just moves the bits up to the cloud, very slowly and laboriously. At least that’s my analysis of watching what happened day by day.
If I’m right that Apple uses the Lala upload technology, there’ll be some real snafus. Make no mistake about that. On the other hand, if Apple does not use the Lala upload and download technology, what did they actually get for its investment in Lala? Could it really be all about ten cents in revenue to listen to your own music? Time will tell.