Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Apple's big iTunes tease

November 15, 2010: 11:01 AM ET

Source: Apple Inc.

Could Tuesday be the day Apple (AAPL) lights up on its billion-dollar server farm in North Carolina, launching its entry into cloud computing? That's what the big tease that appeared on the front page of Apple.com Monday morning suggests. [UPDATE: See One more time: The Beatles on iTunes? and Behind the Beatles-iTunes deal.]

Among the threads that seem to be coming together this week:

  • The 500,000-square-foot data center in Maiden, N.C. -- nearly five times the size of Apple's giant data center in Newark, Calif. -- which COO Tim Cook has said is on track to open this year and could very well be ready to go this week.
  • Apple's purchase last December of Lala's streaming music service, which it shuttered five months later, presumably to replace it with a streaming version of iTunes.
  • The high-quality live web-streams of Steve Jobs' last two performances, suggesting that Apple may have developed the capability of streaming video as well as audio.
  • The latest version of iCal, which replaces locally stored data with calendars stored on Apple's servers.
  • The launch of the new MacBook Airs, which Jobs described as the shape of notebook computers to come. Their relatively small storage capacity (starting at 64 GB) suggests that in the future, Apple may expect users to store their files in the cloud, rather than on their hard drives.
  • The latest iteration of Apple TV, which replaces hard-drive storage with streaming video.

In a note to clients issued Monday morning, Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster had this to say about the "online iTunes-related event" scheduled for 10 a.m. EST (7 a.m. PST):

"We believe Apple could announce a cloud-based iTunes service for content streaming to connected devices. Apple is developing a data center in Maiden, NC that we believe could serve as the hub for such a service. The company has indicated that the data center is on track to be completed by the end of CY10 and it will begin using it then. With Apple's growing family of connected devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV, and Macs) it only makes sense that Apple would deliver a cloud-based media service to leverage its competitive advantage in the space: devices. As part of this, the new Apple TV with limited storage, a lower price, and a focus on accessing content over the internet would fit in nicely. We see this device, and the potential iTunes cloud-based service, as a stepping stone for an all-in-one, connected Apple television."

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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