Apple (s aapl) wants record companies to let its iTunes customers download music they’ve purchased as many times as they like, on multiple devices, according to Bloomberg. The Mac-maker is reportedly now in talks with its major record label partners to make this happen.
Bloomberg cites three people “with knowledge of the plans” as the source of the information. One of those people also said that an agreement could be reached as early as mid-2011, which could allow Apple to unveil a digital locker service for iTunes customers at or around WWDC 2011, to coincide with the widely-anticipated next generation iPhone’s launch.
As we reported earlier, Apple is shopping this service as a sort of insurance policy for its users, in the event that libraries are accidentally destroyed, lost or stolen. But it would actually be much more than that, as it would finally allow iPhone or iPad owners to sign in and retrieve song and album purchases made on their computers without having to purchase the album again or perform a tethered sync. It might not be wireless syncing, but it would be one less reason to plug your iOS device into a computer.
The new system would make the iTunes Store more closely resemble both the Mac and iOS App Stores, where once a user purchases an app, they can download that app again for free from any compatible device an unlimited number of times. Apple is clearly interested in unifying the experience of all of its store fronts, both in terms of how they work from a revenue standpoint (see the new e-book and app subscription rules) and, as in this case, user experience. I know many late-comers to Apple products find it surprising that they can re-download apps but not iTunes media, and a change in this regard would probably prevent at least a few accidental repeat purchases.
Apple has no doubt tried to convince record labels this was a good idea in the past, but now it has new ammo. Digital download sales have stalled in the past year, according to Nielsen, and subscription music services are on the rise. Both labels and Apple stand to lose out if subscription streaming becomes the dominant model, so music companies could be more willing to embrace unlimited downloads as a way to reverse that trend.
In iOS 4.3, Apple is introducing Home Sharing for iOS devices, which gives you access to your iTunes library shared from a computer on your local network, but unlimited downloads from cloud locker storage would make it easy to retrieve your tracks while away from home, too. Let’s hope these talks go Apple’s way, since users stand to gain the most from the deal.
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