Apple’s buying the streaming music service, Lala. CNet’s Greg Sandoval broke the story. Brad Stone at The NYTimes nailed it down and filled in some details. Techmeme pumped up the discussion. Of all that, Technologizer’s Harry McCracken sums up the service nicely:
The company has an oddball history that includes a period as a CD-swapping service and a foray into radio, but for over a year, it’s focused on pretty much being what iTunes might be if it were an entirely Web-based service. You can buy streaming-only songs for a dime apiece, but the first listen to any song is free. Like the late, lamented original MP3.com, Lala replicates your music collection on its servers so you can listen to it anywhere–but Lala does so much more easily…and it does so legally. It wraps everything up in a user interface that looks like iTunes’ browser-based twin brother, and adds hooks to services such as Facebook and Google.
After much delay, the company recently finished work on a new product that would make its ties to Apple even closer: an iPhone app that brings most of the Web-based service to Apple’s smartphone. Lala has submitted it to Apple but it’s not yet approved for App Store distribution. However, it gave me a prerelease copy for review, and it’s as spectacular as the Web version–all of a sudden, the iPhone’s relatively skimpy memory isn’t nearly as much of an issue, since you can stream all the music you’ve got in iTunes on a PC or Mac to your phone. You can also listen to and buy songs from Lala’s 8-million song store. It’s all surprisingly fast for a streaming service, and it even caches recent music you’ve listened to so you’re not completely out of luck if you don’t have an Internet connection.
McCracken says the Apple acquisition could be very, very good. Or very, very bad. Jason Kincaid sums up the potential bad news for Lala users:
It’s unlikely that the innovative deals negotiated by Lala will survive through the acquisition. For over a year, Lala users have been purchasing the rights to stream their music an unlimited number of times for ten cents per song. If the deals with the music labels go up in smoke, Lala may lose the right to stream those songs. In other words, all the money users have been spending on web songs may go down the drain. If the deals are nullified, hopefully Apple will renegotiate them to at least cover existing purchases until it releases its own streaming music service. We’ve reached out to Lala but have yet to hear back.
Likewise, this may well affect the Lala music gifts that have been recently offered by Facebook, and it could also harm the Music OneBox service Google recently launched (though Google can still rely on MySpace/iLike for its song streams).
It strikes me it’s a question of when and how, not if, the streaming service will be integrated into iTunes. It’s an obvious way for Apple to keep the lead and extend its music franchise by moving into the online music arena.
RELATED: Jason Kincaid’s preview of the Lala Streaming iPhone App.