Apple investigating cloud-based media syncing, tagging on the go

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Apple's expected future plans for a cloud-based iTunes could grant users the ability to sync media playback, allowing them to pick up where they left off, and tag media from other sources like HD and satellite radio, according to new patent applications.

Two of Apple's latest applications revealed this week through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office relate specifically to cloud-based media. The first application, entitled "Recapping Media Content," describes a system where users could continue the playback of an album, TV show or movie from where they left off on another device.

The described system would apply both to locally stored content, as well as media being streamed from the Internet. The application suggests that such a system could automatically provide the viewer with a recap, to refresh them on what they've already watched.

"Current media players do not provide a feature for recapping earlier media content according to a recapping control variable, then displaying descriptive information related to the recapped media content," the application reads. "Moreover, current media players do not provide a feature where the descriptive information related to the recapped media content may be text, images, audio or a combination thereof."

Apple's solution would sync playback data and personal preferences, allowing users to access their content and pick up where they left off from a variety of devices. And the system would provide a quick recap, so that users won't be lost on the story of a TV show or movie.

The application states that this could be accomplished through a specific application, such as iTunes, or a browser-based media player. The invention, filed for on Nov. 25, 2008, is credited to Windy Chien, Gary Stewart and Robert Kondrk.

Separately, a second cloud-based patent revealed on Thursday describes a system where users could receive tags for content automatically from the Web, allowing them to discover streaming or radio content through iTunes and purchase it.

Entitled "Tagging Media Assets, Locations, and Advertisements," the application first filed on Jan. 26, 2010, encompasses a number of broadcast mediums, including HD radio, satellite radio, streaming Internet radio, and downloaded content. Content could be tagged in a number of categories, including basics like artist and album, the call letters of the radio station it might have been heard on, the URL for the podcast RSS feed, or a country of origin for the media.

A user's location when listening to content could also be stored, via a GPS receiver. Such a system could also obtain specific information, like the DJ on a radio station when a particular song was played.

Patent 2

"A tag associated with the data tag may be used to perform a number of different actions by a number of different systems," the application reads. "For example, a tag may be used to obtain additional information, advertisements, and/or access to (e.g., purchase, receive for free, etc.) media content."

The invention is credited to Jesse Lee Dorogusker, Emily Clark Schubert, Donald J. Novotney, Lawrence G. Bolton, and Eric Oliver.

Both applications are particularly interesting, given persistent rumors and strong evidence that Apple is working on a cloud-based iTunes that would allow users to stream their content from the Internet via a variety of connected devices. Late last year, Apple purchased streaming music service Lala for $85 million, leading to speculation that Apple is working on a cloud-based iTunes that would allow users to stream their music from multiple devices and even Web browsers, without using the iTunes desktop client. While Apple has remained tight-lipped, some have said the service will arrive in 2010.

The now-Apple-owned Lala will cease operations next week, on May 31, giving users who bought songs through the site an iTunes credit. That date is just a week before Apple is set to kick off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference on June 7, which has lead to speculation that an iTunes cloud service could be unveiled at Apple's event. However, MediaMemo's Peter Kafka reported that such a move is not expected anytime soon, as Apple allegedly only recently began talking to record labels about a Web-based version of iTunes.