Apple has taken the unusual step of pre-announcing a broad push into online services, as it seeks to reinforce its consumer gadgets with a stronger presence in the “cloud” services on which they increasingly rely.
The US consumer technology company also broke with normal practice by revealing that Steve Jobs, who has been on medical leave since January, would appear publicly next week as part of the announcement of what it dubbed the iCloud.
Mr Jobs’ health has often been a subject of fevered speculation ahead of Apple events, and the question of his presence has in some cases overshadowed the products.
The advanced news of next Monday’s announcements broke with the intense secrecy that Mr Jobs usually insists on for Apple events and comes as the company is racing to put the final pieces in place for an online music service that would let users listen to digital songs they already own by streaming them onto any computer, smartphone or tablet.
Two people familiar with its negotiations said Apple would pass 70 per cent of revenues from the new service to music companies. Apple has deals with three big record labels, and is close to a deal with the fourth, Universal Music. Music publishers are expected to agree terms this week.
The new online music service is expected to be the centerpiece of the Apple’s efforts to build a bigger following for its online services under the iCloud name.
Despite the dominance of its online iTunes and App stores, Apple’s other internet services have failed to gain traction.
Adoption of Mobile Me, its collection of data backup and other personal services, has been held back by its subscription pricing at a time when most rivals are free, while Ping, a social network built on top of Apple’s iTunes, has failed to draw users.
The concern that Apple could uses its dominance of digital music to build a stronger foothold in cloud media services prompted Amazon and Google to rush out limited music services of their own in recent weeks before agreeing terms with music labels and publishers.
As the only licensed service, Apple will at a minimum be able to copy users’ music libraries and replicate them from its own remotely held catalogue of songs, for access from any computer, smartphone or tablet. Users of the Amazon and Google services have to upload their collections first, which can be a time-consuming process.