The presence of Jobs at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) was not certain: He has been on medical leave since the beginning of the year, his second such leave since being diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2004.
Investors, sensitive to the health of an executive as powerful and influential as Jobs, appear to be heartened by the news: Apple's stock closed up more than 10 points, about 3%, on Tuesday.
Jobs missed the 2009 WWDC but delivered the keynote speech at the conference in 2010.
Apple is said to have struck deals with major music industry companies that will allow Apple to host consumers' purchased music files in the $1 billion data center that the company recently completed in Maiden, North Carolina. Subscribers are expected to be able to access their music files from any Mac OS X or iOS device via streaming playback over an active WiFi or mobile network connection. Whether iCloud will support other operating systems remains to be seen. The major draw of the service is likely to be the ability to sync files across supported devices wirelessly; the current method of syncing via USB cable doesn't provide the best possible user experience.
The Wall Street Journal says Apple has reached agreements with Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI, and is expected to conclude a deal with Universal Music Group this week.
Apple's competitors in the emerging media hosting business, Amazon and Google, have gone ahead and launched their own cloud music services without the blessing of music companies, moves that appear to invite copyright litigation.
The legality of cloud music hosting has yet be tested in court, but Amazon and Google have at least some reason to believe the law is on their side: The U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 said it was not a copyright law violation for Cablevision to store DVR recordings made by its customers.
Apple's iCloud represents the company's fourth attempt at a cloud service: It began life as iDisk, part of the iTools service in January 2000. It was re-branded and turned into a $99 per year paid offering under the name .Mac in July 2002. The service was renamed MobileMe in July 2008 and was discontinued as a standalone retail product in February this year, though subscriptions are still sold through Apple's website.
MobileMe has been widely regarded as overpriced--given the quality and storage capacity of free email, storage, and photo services--and underwhelming. The service's rocky 2008 relaunch didn't alter that impression. Apple appears to be aware that it has to provide more value to compete with the likes of Amazon, Dropbox, Google, and other cloud services. Last year, it made its Find My iPhone service, previously available only to paying MobileMe subscribers, free to any user of recent vintage iOS devices with an Apple ID.
It's unclear whether Apple will reveal information about its next iPhone at WWDC, which isn't expected to ship until August or September.
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