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Tuesday, January 19, 2010, 07:40 am PT (10:40 am ET)

Music exec says Apple's iTunes cloud is real, coming in 2010

Another prediction that Apple's acquisition of streaming music service Lala will result in a cloud-based iTunes service was offered Tuesday, with a digital music executive suggesting purchased content will be available from any browser or Internet-connected device.

In a guest column on TechCrunch, Michael Robertson, a 12-year veteran of the digital music business, former CEO of MP3. com and current CEO of MP3tunes, said he believes Apple will not offer a subscription music service in the future. Instead, he said, the purchase of Lala will allow Apple to create an iTunes service that will make content accessible from anywhere.

"An upcoming major revision of iTunes will copy each user's catalog to the net making it available from any browser or net connected ipod/touch/tablet," he wrote. "The Lala upload technology will be bundled into a future iTunes upgrade which will automatically be installed for the 100+ million itunes users with a simple 'An upgrade is available…' notification dialog box.

"After installation iTunes will push in the background their entire media library to their personal mobile iTunes area. Once loaded, users will be able to navigate and play their music, videos and playlists from their personal URL using a browser based iTunes experience."

Robertson's column echoes what was said over a month ago by The Wall Street Journal: Apple will change its iTunes business model to focus on Internet-based content. The $85 million purchase of Lala will allow users to access and manage their iTunes purchases directly through the Internet without downloading the content in question, or the iTunes software.

In its current form, iTunes requires users to download and manage purchased content on a per-computer basis. But with Internet-based management, users could log into their iTunes account and access and stream all of their music from any computer, or device, with an Internet connection. Apple could even sell music on other Web sites or through Web-based search results.

In addition, analyst Maynard J. Um of UBS Investment Research said in early December that he believes iTunes content will become available from a Web browser and other Apple devices. The purchase of Lala could tie in to Apple's $1 billion server farm in North Carolina.

The presence of iTunes on the Web has already grown, with the iTunes Preview Web page being introduced in early 2009, and browser-based 30-second song samples coming soon after. The iTunes Preview site allows users to view content available from the service without opening the media suite software.

Robertson wrote Tuesday that he expects a mobile iTunes to appear in 2010, allowing Apple to "protect their media franchise from encroachment." Such a move, he said, would allow the Cupertino, Calif., company to stay well ahead of the competition.

"Think Amazon/e-commerce, Microsoft/OS, Google/search, Apple/media," he wrote. "(Apple co-founder Steve) Jobs is keenly aware of the digital transition from PC to cloud centric programs and services. It’s imperative Apple lead in this transition or risk ceding leadership in media to others such as Amazon, Real, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc."