Who Will Create iTunes for the Cloud?


If you’re like me, your digital media life is messy. If I were to take inventory of where all my digital media resides, the list would include Flickr, Facebook, iTunes, Android, Netflix, YouTube, Picasa, Flipshare, Amazon, Kindle, iBooks, Windows PC, Mac, iPad and so on.

Like I said, a mess.

And while I’m an early adopter, I’m probably not very different from tens of millions of consumers who face digital media anarchy every day across the various screens, accounts and software populating their life.

Apple is the first company to even come close to helping us manage this chaos, with iTunes. After it was first introduced a decade ago, the service became hugely popular partly because it was the first cohesive management tool for first music, then later other types of media.

But iTunes has gotten flabby with age, and the creaking has gotten more noticeable lately as the cloud becomes more and more important for digital media storage. In a way, iTunes has become the Windows of consumer media management — dominant but a relic of a past era.

The bottom line is that consumers want their media storage simpler, not more complicated; the push of content upward into the cloud presents that opportunity, not just for  Apple, but for a handful of competitors as well. Proximity and control over content management and playback means a bigger stake in consumer purchase behavior (both for content itself and, in the case of Apple, the playback devices).  The bigger the stake, the more monetization through a direct storefront, affiliate/partner, or advertising.

So who could — and should — create iTunes in the cloud?

Google. Google has already entered the e-book market, but its rumored music locker is perhaps the best indication of what a Google trans-media management service would look like: purchase, rights locker, playback and sharing. As with most things Google, any cross-media management service it offers will be tied back to a consumer’s single account, most likely Gmail.

Facebook. The social network behemoth is the world’s biggest digital photo site at this point, has payments, is device-agnostic and has growing platform ambitions. However, anything Facebook does will likely center on sharing and possibly purchase; it will likely leave the heavy lifting management to someone else.

Amazon. Perhaps the biggest dark horse is Amazon. While the company is largely about purchases today, it’s shown with Kindle it can do a well-executed digital content management platform. Since the company clearly sees all forms of content as a big growth area, who’s to say it won’t eventually extend its reach beyond e-books and create an iTunes for the cloud?

Apple. But let’s be real. This is Apple’s race to lose, and all indications suggest that Cupertino is looking to revamp iTunes to the new reality of cloud-based media. The only question is whether another competitor with less baggage (and by baggage I mean installed base and proprietary hardware) will get there first.

For more analysis of why owning the consumer media cloud is the new battleground for digital media, see my weekly update at GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

Image courtesy of: flickr user sjon

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