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The future of digital music distribution with Apple, Microsoft and Google

Today two articles have been published by different, reputable websites regarding both Apple's future music distribution service efforts and how Google plans to enter the music distribution market.

Apple is due to hold an event on September 1st where many people expect the company to announce a new line up of iPods and the long rumoured iTV (Apple TV). However today, in an article on Gizmodo, there is a lesser known rumour referring to what Apple has planned for an online service for iTunes. It has long been thought that Apple, since its acquisition of Lala, a music streaming website, would allow users to stream music from the Internet sometime this year. Music streaming has been a popular rumoured announcement for next Wednesday, however Gizmodo understand that this won’t be the case.

Gizmodo believe that Apple will be announcing a new website as a compliment to iTunes that will make listening to music more social by allowing users to share what they are listening to with their friends. It is thought that this service will not allow music playback in anyway.

All Things Digital have reported that Google is currently on the hunt for someone to head its music distribution venture. Google Music is expected to be announced sometime over the next few months.  

Peter Kafta writes on All Things Digital “music executives I talk to imagine that Google would eventually like to run a cloud-based streaming music service” but he believes that, at launch, this won't be the case. He thinks it will be a music store, similar to iTunes, and will be aimed at Android. This makes sense as Android’s head, Andy Rubin, is very much involved in Google Music at the moment. No one knows when Google Music will be launched or when to expect music streaming.

Then there is Microsoft who will be launching Windows Phone 7 later this year around the world which will feature Zune, Microsoft’s own music distribution service. It was confirmed months ago that Zune will finally be going international to accompany Microsoft’s new mobile OS and only last month evidence started appearing that work was being done on the backend of the service in preparation of an international roll out.

As shown with the ill-fated KIN, it’s possible to stream music from Zune’s seven million-plus library of songs on mobile devices and later this year it will also be possible on the Xbox 360. Zune fans have been able to stream music via Zune.net for some time (as long as the user has a Zune Pass subscription). This could mean that Microsoft will be the first of the major three consumer technology companies to offer music streaming.

Interestingly Zune has always been about “the social” which, as mentioned earlier in this article, it sounds like Apple is planning to implement for iTunes. Zune.net features play counts for songs and artists and even top listeners for artists. It is thought Microsoft will make an announcement over the coming weeks with information about new features for the Zune service and its software.

Whilst Apple have been the dominant force in the music industry for the past several years they are now beginning to get some competition from Google and Microsoft and even smaller companies like Spotify. However it would seem that Microsoft are going to be the first company to allow users to stream music on all three screens and the cloud. As part of the streaming service, Microsoft could also be the first company to offer a subscription based model for listening to music to consumers around the world.

Of course the companies have yet to show their cards so Apple might have more to announce than just a social website for iTunes, Google might have a few tricks up its sleeve and Microsoft have yet to take Zune international. But judging by the rumours and speculation the future of digital music distribution looks to be very interesting and certainly a future where consumers should really benefit.

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