Apple Patent Suggests their Cloud Will be the Fluffiest of All

In a recent article on the status of the could music battle between Amazon, Google and Apple, I tendered my opinion that victory wouldn’t be based on chronological order, but on a litany of factors. I also touched on the fact that Apple has a storied history of entering the market later than competitors with a superior product and almost immediately leaving said competitors to fight for a very distant second place. Well I’m not one who revels in saying ‘I told you so’ (that’s an absolute lie, I love it) but a recently unearthed patent application strongly suggests that Apple’s cloud-based music service could be a game changer.

Last week, informed the world of the patent application in question. While the document dates back to 2009, the approaches detailed therein are yet to be notably implemented by other cloud or cloud-esque services (though, as we’ll see, may draw from other applications). Though disarmingly simple and streamlined, the wordy jargon of an official patent sometimes clouds that aspect of the suggested technology. So here’s a simplified breakdown.

Firstly, a cloud-based music service will always have a tug-of-war between two considerations: storage space and streaming speed. Naturally, with your music stored in a cloud, there will be a wait time while you connect to and access your preferred content from your current electronic device (phone, tablet, computer etc.). This has been addressed thus far by allowing the user to store their favorite and/or most recently played tracks on their device. However, a device has only so much storage space – and with the gargantuan size of many listeners’ libraries, this remains a partial fix.

Apple’s ingenious solution; storing portions of media files on the user’s device. The size of this portion will likely be selectable by the user to maximize the ratio of space to stream time. This will allow a listening/watching (if video is available as well) experience akin to having all the date stored on your device as the remainder of the requested content will stream while the local portion is enjoyed instantly on request. The transition between the two should be seamless.

If that wasn’t enough, Apple ups the ante one again with a couple tricks concerning iTunes integration. While such a feature was a foregone conclusion, the actual applications being put forward are pretty delicious. The patent details using a content source (examples of such would be  Apple’s iTunes Store or as another source for devices to access music they own. And by another, they don’t just mean an alternative – the patent states that this can be done “instead or in addition” (emphasis mine) to streaming from the cloud.

This of course raises questions of both logistics and security. And here Apple suggest a technology that is by no means new but is picture perfect for this application. Apple offers up a solution of using a data structure of discontinuous locally stored segments for media items. This simply means that instead of simply storing the first thirty seconds of  a song, random portions of the file will instead be stored on the device. The device will then have to communicate with the content source (be it the user’s cloud, the iTunes Store, or the user’s own computer holding the original library) and download the correct missing portions. Check out the image from Apple’s patent application, and then go check out the download status indicator in your torrent client (which I’m sure you’re only using to download non-copyrighted material). A bit similar, wouldn’t you say? And just like torrent downloads, it should make for blazing fast and efficient data delivery.

This very technique can also act as a security feature, possibly in tandem with a number of others. The username and password feature will naturally be a given to access one’s library. However, the random and discontinuous nature of this storage approach means that even if your username and password are acquired by an unauthorized party, it will be impossible for them to enjoy your media from their device. Further, Apple also talks of the use of encryption, where decryption will require a response from the device, which will be unique to that particular one. The record companies are going to appreciate that one.

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