Is music part of Apple's tablet hoopla?

On the eve of Apple's expected tablet launch, many in the music industry were wondering what kind of music features--if any--the new computer will offer.

At this point, it looks fairly certain that an Apple tablet computer, expected to debut on Wednesday, will offer digital books, newspapers, and video.

But what about music? Conspicuously missing from much of the speculation surrounding Apple's tablet is any word about what music features it offers. Music is the content that Apple used to forge the iTunes and iPod dynasties, and music has been an integral part of the iPhone as well.

Could music be left out of all the tablet ballyhoo?

CNET reported last week that Apple spoke to the labels recently about offering iTunes users the ability to store songs on the company's servers, which would enable them to back up their music libraries and access their songs from any Internet-connected digital music player. Apple fans have considered the possibility of an iTunes streaming service since Apple acquired Lala last month.

Apple could launch a streaming-music service at the tablet event, but as I reported last week, Apple has yet to sign any licensing deals for a streaming offering with the four largest recording companies, and my music industry sources say that hasn't changed as of Tuesday afternoon.

Even without the licenses, there's nothing stopping tablet owners from using the tablet to connect to iTunes--that is, if reports that the device is Internet-enabled are accurate.

One important caveat is that some believe that Apple doesn't have to strike new agreements with the labels to launch a streaming-music service like the one it has discussed. Michael Robertson , the founder of MP3tunes.com, last week said he believes that nothing in current laws would prohibit Apple from storing and distributing legally obtained music to its rightful owner.

Much of the music industry disagrees, according to industry insiders. For example, EMI Music, one of the four largest recording companies, is suing Robertson for enabling people to store their music in "digital lockers" and access it from Web-connected devices, a similar consumer proposition as the proposes iTunes streaming service.

Undoubtedly, Robertson would like to see Apple join him in taking on the record labels.

One label executive, who asked to remain anonymous, said that if Jobs rolls out a streaming service without getting authorization from the labels, there won't necessarily be a war, but "there would be a problem."

 

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