Jobs unveils free iCloud sync, storage service

Will charge $25 a year for access to music not bought through iTunes (See video below)

Steve Jobs WWDC
CEO Steve Jobs is pictured with an image of Apple's server farm in Maiden, N.C. as he discusses the company's new iCloud service. (Beck Diefenbach / Reuters)

Apple CEO Steve Jobs today took the stage at his company's annual developers conference to tout the new iOS 5, the upcoming Lion edition of Mac OS X and the firm's new cloud service, iCloud.

As expected, the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote focused on software, and unlike the last several years, did not introduce a new iPhone.

"If the hardware is the brain and the sinew of the product, the software in the middle is the soul," Jobs said at the beginning of the two-hour presentation.

Jobs, who remains on an indefinite medical leave, used his second public appearance this year to demonstrate iCloud, the new free online sync and storage service that for most users will replace the three-year-old MobileMe.

Most analysts and pundits had predicted that iCloud would feature a music streaming or subscription service. But they were wrong.

Instead, iCloud serves as a music, photo, app, document and other data sync service that keeps multiple devices up-to-date with user-purchased or -created content.

"I'm impressed," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, of iCloud. "The price is certainly right."

iCloud will be free to owners of any iOS-powered device or Mac, Jobs said several times during his time on stage.

Unlike the music "locker" services that Amazon and Google launched earlier this year, Apple's iCloud does not require users to upload their tunes to a central server. In iCloud, the tracks are not streamed from such a server, but are instead quickly downloaded at user request to up to 10 iOS devices or Macs, where they can then be played.

"This is the first time we've seen this in the music industry..., no charge for multiple downloads to different devices," said Jobs.

Tracks and albums purchased through Apple's iTunes are available for downloading -- Apple called it "iTunes in the Cloud" -- for free, but to do the same with other music, such as albums that a user has "ripped" from a purchased CD, customers will need to subscribe to "iTunes Match" for $24.99 annually.

iTunes Match doesn't require users to actually upload their music library to a server. Instead, said Jobs, the service scans a customer's collection, matches it against the 18 million tracks in Apple's store, then makes the matches available for instant downloading to the maximum 10 devices or computers.

"This takes minutes, not weeks," said Jobs, taking a jab at rivals Amazon and Google. "If you have to upload your entire library to some service in the cloud, that could take weeks."

Other features of iCloud include contact, calendar and mail synchronization across multiple devices -- a duty the $99-per-year MobileMe currently serves -- as well as syncing purchased apps, photos and iBook-bought books; storing email messages and documents; and backing up selected data.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs returned to the keynote stage Monday to launch Apple's upcoming iCloud service. iCloud will let users store documents, calendars, contacts, photos and music online and distribute them to other devices.

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