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Apple expands iTunes Preview to allow browser-based song sampling

A month after Apple's purchase of music streaming service Lala, iTunes Preview has been expanded to allow 30-second song samples within a browser.

In November, Apple quietly introduced iTunes Preview, which gives customers the option to view content without launching the iTunes application. This week, the Web site has added the same half-minute song samples that are available from within iTunes.

By clicking a play button to the left of an artist's song, a sample of the track plays in a manner identical to iTunes. However, to purchase the content, users must still click the "View in iTunes" link.

In December, Apple purchased music streaming service Lala for $85 million. The acquisition is expected to pave the way for a cloud-based iTunes service that could allow users to access and manage their purchased content directly through the Internet, without using Apple's desktop media suite.

Currently, users are required to download and manage iTunes purchases on a per-computer basis. Some have speculated that, in the future, Apple could allow users to log into their iTunes account and stream the music they own from any computer or device with an Internet connection.

In October, Lala, along with iLike, entered a partnership with Google to allow users to quickly discover song previews, artist info, pictures, video and more. Currently, Google searches for artists or songs can return a full, streaming, embedded song at the top of results, courtesy of Lala — unlike iTunes Preview's 30-second samples. Lala allows its users to stream any song in its 8 million strong song library once, with the option for unlimited streaming at 10 cents per track and 79 cents for permanent MP3 download.