Observers say the closure is a precursor to Apple launching a Web-based version of iTunes in June.
Apple plans to shut down in May the Lala online music service it bought late last year, fueling speculation that the company may unveil a Web-based version of iTunes at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June.
Apple has never said why it bought Lala last December or what it planned to do with it. The secretive company does not discuss future products or services.
Lala announced the closure on its Web site, saying it would shut down May 31, a week before Apple's WWDC opens in San Francisco. The company has stopped accepting new users.
Industry observers have expected Apple to launch a Web-based version of iTunes since the purchase of Lala for an undisclosed amount. The Wall Street Journal reported in January that the service, tentatively called iTunes.com, could be launched in June. The service would allow people to listen to music without going through the specialized iTunes software on computers, iPhones, and iPod Touches.
Lala enabled subscribes to upload their music libraries and access the tunes through a Web browser on any device. Subscribers could also buy non-downloadable songs, called Web songs, for 10 cents each and listen to the tunes as many times as they liked. Lala also sold music-to-own and claimed to have a library of more than 7 million songs when it was bought by Apple.
Lala says it will refund the money people spent on Web songs.
Apple has never shown an interest in streaming music over the Web. However, with the number of smartphones and other mobile devices rising that could change. Forrester Research predicts the number of people subscribing to music services will increase to more than 5 million by 2014 from 2.1 million today.
Apple typically uses the WWDC to announce new products and services. The company has used the conference for the last two years to kick off new models of the iPhone, and a new version is expected to be announced this year too.
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