Is DECE about to get Lala'd? (Updated)

Updated to fix the bad link: MP3tunes CEO (and former MP3.com CEO) Michael Robertson has an interesting guest post on TechCrunch today about Apple’s emerging cloud strategy and the possible role in that strategy for Lala, the subscription music service it recently acquired. According to Robertson, the Lala acquisition does not presage the launch of a subscription iTunes service, as many have speculated. Instead, the real value of Lala to Apple is its cloud-based personal music storage service and the software for managing it:

As Apple did with the original iPods, Lala realized that any music solution must include music already possessed by the user. The Lala setup process provides software to store a personal music library online and then play it from any web browser alongside web songs they vend. This technology plus the engineering and management team is the true value of Lala to Apple.

An upcoming major revision of iTunes will copy each user’s catalog to the net making it available from any browser or net connected ipod/touch/tablet…After installation iTunes will push in the background their entire media library to their personal mobile iTunes area. Once loaded, users will be able to navigate and play their music, videos and playlists from their personal URL using a browser based iTunes experience.

Based on no independent knowledge of my own, this feels right to me. I never could figure out how Apple could make a go of  a subscription music service given the high royalty costs imposed by the labels. Sure, Apple has succeded elsewhere where others have failed, but unless a subscription service was going to be part of some major new platform play by Apple, I just didn’t see the kind of upside Apple typically looks for with its major initiatives.

A cloud-based storage and retrieval service built on media you already own, however, makes perfect sense because, as outlined by Robertson, it would create an immediate (and huge) base of users to whom Apple can sell new media. Not incidentally, such a service would also add significant value to Apple’s devices–much more than a subscription service would–which is, ultimately, always Apple’s goal.

It also feels like a dagger to the heart of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), the Sony-led industry interoperability consortium of which Apple is conspicuously not a member. What Robertson is describing is, basically,  an Apple-only DECE-like ecosystem, in which consumers could store all their media in the cloud, buy more media to keep in their cloud-based storage unit, and then access all of it from any device with the iTunes client and an Internet connection. While it’s possible to run iTunes on non-Apple devices, the platform–which is where the real value is in digital media–would belong to Apple.

Game, set, match.

Final note: I wonder if there isn’t going to be a little Lala in Disney’s KeyChest?

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