iPod Cloud to launch with Apple streaming music service

The rumours are intensifying. The trail of hints left by Apple is tantalisingly rich. If we’re reading our Apple tealeaves correctly, Jobs and Co are about to unveil the mother of all streaming services. But Apple has never launched a web service in isolation, so what new hardware do we have to look forward to? Step forward, iPod Cloud.

OK, so we’ve made up the name, and the design is of our own making, but bear with us, we think we’re on to something.

Apple’s Deathstar data centre
Apple’s gargantuan data centre has been under construction for months, and is finally teetering on the brink of opperation. It’s a whopper, with more than 500,000 square-foot of server space which will increase the Mac-maker’s serving capacity five fold.

Of course, Apple already streams some media: the new Apple TV hardly stores anything locally, opting instead to suck it all through your home broadband connection, but a 500% increase in capacity doesn’t match the success of the Apple TV. It’s way too big.

Instead, it’s clearly designed for a much broader user base. Either Steve Jobs is expecting record downloads of Lady Gaga’s next album, or he’s getting ready to change the way we consume media on every single one of our Apple devices, for ever. Again.

iPod Cloud main Steve Jobs’ Castle in the iClouds
It’s a prediction matched by the references to a new service codenamed “Castle” in the latest releases of OS X Lion, and Apple’s reported purchase of the iCloud domain name last week. A Castle in the iClouds would serve everything we need, wherever we need it.

So, now we’ve established we’re going to stream our music, TV programmes and movies rather than store them on bulky hard disks or flash, we’re looking at the device we’ll use to watch them.

Our laptops are constantly struggling with limited storage space. Freeing up tens of gigabytes would be a nice bonus on a storage-strapped MacBook Air, while existing iPods and iPhones could benefit from a ceasefire in the capacity arms race.

Think about the iPod touch: if it didn’t need to store any of our music or movies it could lose a bit of its bulk, and probably beef up battery life too. We don’t just mean scrapping memory chips, but rather copying the Apple TV approach: a small amount of storage inside, which is used to hold your most recent purchases, or favourite songs for quick access. Everything else can be downloaded as it’s needed, through Wi-Fi or 3G. Apple’s no doubt got some fancy algorithm to determine the songs you’ll want readily to hand, limiting the need to download the same files over and over.

The result would be less storage on board, making for a sleeker, smarter iPod experience.

Apple’s industrial redesign
And while we’re re-thinking the iPod, the dock connector could be lost too, after all, we won’t be plugging it in to sync any more. Thanks to AirPlay we don’t need to plug the iPod Cloud in to external speakers either. We think it’s time Apple ditched the headphone socket too, making way for some suitably slick Apple Bluetooth earphones.

And power? That can come wirelessly, via NFC. Just drop the iPod Cloud into its gently curved charging dish. We know Apple’s been hiring people with expertise in NFC for years. Is this what they’ve been working on?

And speaking of NFC, wouldn’t it be nice if iCloud also stored ticketing information for gigs (bought via iTunes of course) and let you tap into venues rather than remembering paper stubs?

We know Apple has applied for patents on this technology, and that record companies are making the largest profit margins on their artists’ live appearances. Doesn’t Apple want a slice of the action? Hell, let’s go the whole hog and tie those gig attendance numbers into Ping. Heaven knows it needs something to keep us logging in.

Cut-price cloud, anyone?
And the absolute kicker? The price of an iPod Cloud could actually be lower than almost any iPod before. Despite adding features, Apple could reduce the number of components inside quite drastically, and those it does need? They’re already being shoved inside the iPhone, Apple TV, MacBook Air, iPad and iPod touch, meaning Apple can usher in economies of scale few companies could ever pull off.

Or just cloud cuckoo land?

So what do you think? Have our imaginations run away with us? Have we spent too long in the Bank Holiday sun? Maybe we’re just itching for a proper fight between Apple and Spotify? Let us know in the comments below: Would you buy an iPod Cloud?

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