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Apple's iCloud launch portends music

The cloud service will be unveiled at next week's WWDC. And unless the iTunes maker can't complete licensing deals with music publishers, Apple will show off a new cloud music offering.

We've been waiting and waiting for Apple to make a cloud music announcement, and today we got a big step closer.

As expected, Apple said today it will unveil a service called iCloud on June 6 at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. Granted, Apple itself didn't say anything specifically about music, but we do know that Apple managers have sought to create a music feature for the service. And we'll learn a lot more soon enough.

By the way, none other than Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, who is currently on an indefinite medical leave, will be on hand to unwrap iCloud at the WWDC. (Read the story on Apple's complete announcement here).

Apple has wrapped up licensing agreements with three of the four top record companies, including EMI Music, Warner Music, and Sony Music. CNET reported that Apple and Universal Music, the largest of the major record companies, could ink a deal possibly soon. This would give Apple recorded-music rights to most of the popular music out there. To offer a fully functional cloud music service though, Apple still needs publishing rights.

Sources with knowledge of the talks said that the publishers and Apple are close to an agreement and nobody involved in the talks anticipates anything will prevent iCloud from offering songs from at least the four major record companies and their publishing units.

The big thing in digital music these days is the cloud--your songs hosted on someone else's servers, accessible to you from a variety of devices rather than locked into a specific gadget.

Apple, the force behind iTunes and the iPod, will march into the cloud music category behind Amazon and Google, which both launched within the past two months. Apple, however, will likely launch with music licenses, and that is supposed to enable the company to offer users more features. For example, Apple could scan users' hard drives and then stream songs to them without requiring that individuals upload each song. This is an arduous process and something that Google and Amazon require.

It's uncertain whether consumers will care about any of this. That said, we now have three heavyweights competing in cloud music. Digital music now is marked by flat download sales and little competition. Apple dominates and every one else fights for crumbs.

The competition stands to reinvigorate the sector and hopefully that will keep prices down and offer music buyers plenty of shopping choices.