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iTunes event mystery: What is Apple planning?

Apple ratchets up expectations by mysteriously promising that tomorrow will bring an iTunes announcement and be a day "we'll never forget."

AirPlay is set to launch for iOS devices any day now. Is that what Apple will launch tomorrow morning?
AirPlay is set to launch for iOS devices any day now. Is that what Apple will launch tomorrow morning?

This had better be good.

Apple has promised us--by plastering it all over its home page--that "tomorrow is just another day" that we'll "never forget," thanks to an "exciting announcement from iTunes."

This naturally has thrown the tech news hype machine into high gear. What could Apple have to say? Language like that implies something pretty big. Apple, of course, is no stranger to hyperbole in its marketing messages--think the "magical and revolutionary" iPad.

While that phrase is pretty dramatic, to be fair, the iPad actually ended up being industry-altering. And in true Apple fashion, it had a press conference and an advance year of hype to go with it. This iTunes news appears to be just an announcement posted to Apple.com, scheduled for 7 a.m. PT tomorrow morning, which begs the question: what could possibly be so life- and paradigm-altering yet doesn't require sermonizing by Reverend Steve, live and in-person?

Let's hope that all this buildup doesn't lead to something middling, such as Yoko Ono finally relenting on allowing The Beatles' music on iTunes (yes, a Beatles announcement would be cool, but calling the world's attention to it with this kind of buildup would be lame) or something we're already well aware of, such as the iOS 4.2 announcement that will enable streaming of music and video content from iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches to the new Apple TV.

The AirPlay-centric announcement is supposed to hit sometime this month, according to earlier indications given by Apple. If that's really what Apple has for us tomorrow, you can count on lots of virtual eye rolling and snarky tweets emanating from the tech world.

But why make such a big deal about a feature it discussed at an iTunes event in September? For meatier software updates, Apple usually finds a quietly dashed-off press release sufficient--or even a simple push of the software with no comment at all--such as with iTunes 10.1 last week or Mac OS X 10.6.5 a day prior.

Semi-major product updates at least require a smaller gathering of tech journalists on the Apple campus (see the MacBook Air event in October) so Jobs and his cohorts can demonstrate the hardware or the software. That could be the clue here: maybe tomorrow's announcement is more of an idea or an infrastructure change that can't be demonstrated yet has pretty hefty ramifications for the manner in which you use your digital media.

In other words, could this, at long last, be cloud-based iTunes?

Apple had previously indicated in earnings calls that the giant server farm it has been constructing in North Carolina would be ready to be switched on by the end of this year. It's been long assumed that the purpose of the facility is to house massive amounts of digital media. A cloud-based iTunes would ostensibly allow users to stream content purchased on any device with iTunes to any device with iTunes. In other words, it wiouldn't matter where you bought your music; you could play it on an iPhone or a Mac or an iPad and, of course, through Apple TV, eliminating the need for local storage.

The timing is on par for a cloud announcement: it would fit in with the recent launch of a streaming-only Apple TV released last month and the expected AirPlay update for iOS devices.

But Apple's music partners in the industry would presumably need to be on board with this, and reports indicate that they are completely in the dark. It's not impossible that Apple would would charge ahead without telling them, but given the importance of keeping its very necessary partners happy, doing so certainly doesn't seem like the smartest tactic.

So maybe the announcement will be something completely off the wall...iTunes for Android? Yeah, probably not, but it's as good a guess as any, for now.

We'll be following this live tomorrow at 7 a.m., but please chime in below in the comments with your best guesses as to what Apple has in store for us.

Update 3:40 p.m. PT: Oh well, middling announcement it is: The Wall Street Journal sayswe should expect to hear tomorrow that The Beatles' record label and Apple finally come to terms to allow their music on iTunes.