updated 11:10 pm EST, Wed December 9, 2009
Lala move meant for play anywhere access
Apple's buyout of Lala is part of a potential strategy for granting access to iTunes directly through the web, sources said Wednesday night (subscription required). The deal, now said by the WSJ to be valued at $85 million, was originally thought to be a pure acquisition of talent but is now being used to reduce the dependency on the iTunes jukebox software for content and could permit listening to and managing purchases from a web browser. Apple could not only reach those who don't have access to their home collections but could put iTunes directly into search engine results, social networks and other areas.
While not a major firm, Lala already has hooks in Google's music search feature and has a presence on Facebook as well as key music enthusiast sites like Pitchfork.
This approach also wouldn't necessarily remain limited to songs bought through the iTunes Store. Lala's existing technology scans a user's existing library and grants access to tracks they may have ripped from CD or acquired through other sources. Apple is believed to be considering this approach and would consequently let iTunes users have true access to their collections.
It's not yet known how much of the plan will be implemented. As the deal is less than a week old, even music label executives -- many of whom had non-transferrable deals with Lala -- are reportedly unsure of how they will respond. Apple itself also hasn't definitively pledged itself to the plan and could change its strategy, but the effort involved is light enough that the company could have web-only access switched on within a year.
The technique isn't a completely novel one in the industry but, through Apple, could be one of the first that's both from a mainstream music outlet as well as comprehensive. Besides Lala, Microsoft's Zune Pass services were upgraded with the launch of the Zune HD to allow streaming on the web; however, it only allows access to those with the $15 monthly subscription to use this service where those who only buy per track are required to use the Zune software with locally stored copies.
Streaming access could also venture beyond the web and reduce the effect of storage limitations on Internet-connected Apple players like the iPhone and iPod touch. Those on Wi-Fi or on permitting 3G and 4G cellular networks could listen to their whole iTunes libraries without needing either enough onboard memory or even to leave their computer switched on, such as with third-party apps like Simplify Media.
Apple spokesman Steve Dowling has declined to comment on the aims of the Lala acquisition and has repeated the company's recent statement that it buys companies "from time to time."