Wednesday, June 08, 2011

O2 MUSIC & LEISURE | > A Test of Cloud-Based iTunes

itunes cloud 

 A Month Living in the Cloud: A Test of Cloud-Based iTunes

by Stefan Harris | in Apple

I’m a huge Apple fan. I buy their products when I don’t need them, I get excited about minor Safari updates, I eat up Apple rumors like potato chips. In other words, I’m a fanboy.
However, with the recent rumors of a cloud music service on the horizon, I have been less then wowed. Initially I didn’t see the appeal, but my inner fanboy wanted to.
So I set out over the last month to prove to myself whether a cloud-based iTunes would work for me or not. I went into the experiment with some questions:
  1. How much data will I use?
  2. Will buffering drive me crazy?
  3. Will there be lag, or stuttering, of my music in dead zones?

Obviously the cloud-based iTunes is not out yet, so my first task was to find an app that would simulate it – specifically, I needed to be able to stream songs on demand. I tried a handful of popular apps, but each was a subscription-based pay service.
Eventually, I found a rather obscure app called VK-Music Pro. The app has a huge database of music collected from the Russian social network vKontakte and was free, so I downloaded it and started my month-long experiment.
My first observation was that a 3G connection seems to have trouble with files encoded with higher bitrates.  This immediately answered my third question, and I don’t quite know how Apple will deal with this.  So, as for lag/stuttering, yes, it was an issue at least some of the time. I love my music at 320Kbps, and don’t know if I could accept lower quality in exchange for  the few benefits the cloud provides.
Buffering was always an issue; with good signal, it would regularly take about four seconds for a song to start playing. Fortunately, Apple seems to have this problem covered in their recent patent, which allows you to store the first 10 seconds of songs locally, overcoming that initial buffering time.
itunes cloud patent
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, how much data will I use? My commute alone is 90 minutes a day of listening to music on my iPhone, and I was concerned that this would skyrocket my data usage.
Usually I average about 1GB per month, so my initial guess was I would end up using around 4-6GB during my test.  My results shocked me: I only used a total of 2.45GB during the test period – only 1.5GB more then a normal month.  While this would be too much data for a person with a 200MB plan, someone with the larger 4GB plan should have no data overage worries.
Am I excited now about the music cloud? Not really. I still have yet to see a significant advantage over storing my music locally.  If I could combine local storage and cloud storage to keep my favorite songs stored locally and the rest of my collection in the cloud, perhaps I could see the advantage.  Honestly though, I don’t think we have heard the full story on iTunes in the cloudSteve Jobs must have something up his sleeve.
We’ll have to wait till next week to find out what Apple has in store for us this year. At least it won’t be too data-intensive.
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