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If you're at all like me, you're anxious to see what Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) will unveil at next week's Worldwide Developer Conference. The Mac maker will introduce iCloud, the new edition of Mac OS X (Lion), iOS 5, and if history holds, a surprise or two.
Listen to the music
Both OS editions are important and should show well. But if the headlines and Motley Fool CAPS chatter is to be believed, investors are most looking forward to the iCloud.
"The iCloud proves once again that [Apple] isn't slowing down anytime soon in their quest for market capitalization. Look for them to hit $370 [a share] this year," wrote Foolish investor DaveMarcus82 on Tuesday.
Rumor has it that iCloud will feature a streaming music service that, like competing offerings from Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) , will allow users to stream their music library from any Internet-connected device.
The difference? According to The Wall Street Journal, Apple has reached licensing agreements with three of the four major music labels and is expected to close on a deal with Universal Music Group this week. The arrangements supposedly will allow Apple to scan users' iTunes libraries and synchronize what they own with high-quality tracks in the cloud.
Upselling may have also come up during the talks. In scanning my library, iCloud should be able to differentiate between the tracks I've purchased and those I've "ripped" from CDs in our collection. A built-in iCloud Genius engine might see these tracks and offer to upgrade me to remastered or HD audio versions. The result? Labels get more revenue, Apple gets revenue and market share, and I get a better-quality listening experience.
iCloud: Your new home movie library?
We've yet to hear whether the iCloud digital locker will also make room for TV and movie files, but it's not a stretch to think it will. Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS ) is already a close Apple partner, thanks to CEO Steve Jobs' position on Disney's board. (He's also The House of Mouse's top independent stockholder.)
And what about Sony? The company has been a major Hollywood player for years, thanks to its 1989 acquisition of Columbia Pictures and a 2005 collaborative buyout of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Version 1.0 of iCloud might allow for synchronized storage of movies and TV episodes from these studios.
Can you imagine how disruptive that might be? No longer would users choose between streaming and downloading. With iCloud, they'd purchase tracks (or episodes, or movies) and store them on Apple's servers -- instantly extending the reach of their libraries, while also controlling their playlists. No more bowing to the whims of ever-shifting catalogs at Hulu, Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) , and Pandora in order to stream. Labels, studios, artists, listeners, viewers ... everyone wins.
Even Hulu and Netflix. Why? Think about how often you purchase movies or TV episodes. Streaming video services such as these will still offer the best vehicles to try series or flicks you might like. The "free movies" tab at YouTube and similar offerings from the likes of Comcast's XFINITY service could also fill this niche over time. Trying leads to buying. In this sense, Netflix could become a channel for Apple.
Your couch in the clouds
And these are just two possibilities. I'm sure there's plenty I haven't yet thought of that will make it into Jobs' keynote address next week -- the cloud is too big an opportunity for Apple to ignore any longer. But don't take my word for it. Take a minute to watch this free video right now, and you'll walk away with a richer understanding of how cloud computing is changing everything.