2014 came and went without much news for iTunes. There was no international expansion for iTunes Radio, and no word on Continuity for iTunes or media. There was, however, Apple's acquisition of Beats Music. I can only imagine it caused a bit of a scuffle in the company's media department, tossing out old plans and demanding new plans be made.
As such, I'd have been surprised if Apple wasn't working on a new, hybrid music service. But it's the how and the what they're going to do with it that's interesting to me.
Based heavily upon cloud streaming, Apple's new service is centered around the user's music library. A new search feature will be able to locate any song in the iTunes/Beats catalog, and users will be able to stream music from the catalog as well as add songs to their personal libraries. Users will be able to select specific tracks to store on their iOS devices and/or computers, or keep all songs solely in the cloud. Apple will also deeply integrate Beats Music's Playlists, Activities, and Mixes features into the new service, letting users access a vast array of pre-made, human-curated playlists to fit various activities. Surprisingly, Apple is likely to also update Beats' social networking features, allowing people to follow other users and artists as they did with the failed Ping social music network.
Gurman goes on to note that the pipes are Beats technology, but the interface is all Apple — historically a very good model for the company. Also, it may well mark Apple's first official venture into the Android universe, as Beats already has an Android app; sadly, there appears to be no official plans being made for our Windows Phone counterparts (Because, market share. Apple famously made iTunes.app for Windows, but not for Linux — oh, how times have changed.)
I wonder how this rumored service might affect iTunes, as well: I've been hoping for an iTunes for iCloud service for years now, and dropping legacy support for Windows and enabling access over the web could free Apple up to do all sorts of interesting things — like completely reinvent the OS X app.
Obviously, given the iPhone gravity well, Apple is going to focus on mobile first, and in this case, music-first as well; Hollywood studios make record labels look positively progressive. But if the door's open to Android, how much wider could it eventually get?
The iTunes app and iTunes Store is based on technology that goes back decades. It's gotten creaky on the front-end, and I can't even imagine what it must be like on the back-end. Moving hundreds of millions of products and customers accounting for billions of dollars in transactions out of the past and into the future will no doubt be an almost impossibly difficult task. Yet it's one that won't get any easier over time. Maybe these rumors are a sign that Apple has acknowledged that issue, and that the transition is already underway. After all, the best way to move a colossus is to get its constituent parts to move themselves.