Yesterday much attention was lavished on Steve Jobs and his announcement of a new and improved iPhone (still and, I would argue, forever lacking a radio receiver, HD or otherwise).
Fast Company noted at least one topic that was glaringly absent from Jobs' address: The much rumored idea of "iTunes in the cloud."
Not a peep about iTunes during Steve's speech, which may be a surprise to some who were expecting news about a move to cloud-based storage and content streaming (possibly using tech from Lala, the streaming music platform that Apple recently acquired). The only mention of iTunes is in the new iPhone's specs page on Apple.com, where it's noted the device needs "iTunes 9.2" whereas the current version is 9.1.1. Will iTunes 9.2 have cloud elements? We don't know. It'll have to ship before the new iPhone 4 goes on sale on June 24th, so it has to happen soon. We suspect a cloud-based iTunes would be a big enough revelation that Jobs would mention it in a big event so it won't appear in June. But it may merit a special "Come Feel Music's Future in the Air" Apple-style special event later this year.
I think it's unlikely that Apple will slide this under the radar between now and late June. Indeed, it's much more likely that the liberation of your iTunes content from the hardware it's currently tethered to will constitute its own "in the Air" event later this year, as Fast Company suggests.
But make no mistake: This is coming.
And when it does come it will not only be easier to access this content, but it will be easier and cheaper to "rent" music (rather than "buy" it). While this capability is not new to the world, it will be new at Apple-sized scale and with Apple-sized distribution.
It will invite a change of habit in our relationship to music. It's a gamble, but I'd gamble on Apple if I were you.
And what will be the consequences for radio?
Well, radio will still be unmistakably more dynamic and "in the moment" than Apple's service, which will invariably be full-bodied but lifeless as Hell. That's assuming radio pursues an agenda of people behind and in front of its content and not content in the absence of people, of course.
Radio will also continue to be greater than the sum of its music-only parts.
And radio will still be the place for talk content, which will become ever more important to the industry's future with each passing year.
Just wait and see.