Apple is in talks with record companies to allow users to download music tracks they buy on iTunes to any iTunes-enabled device, Bloomberg reported Friday. That would presumably mean any song you buy for your iPhone could then be downloaded multiple times (for no extra cost) to your iPad, your Mac or your PC.
In many ways this move is exactly in line with what other media publishers have already started to do -- let users pay once, and use anywhere. That way, users can forget whether they first bought a book or television show for a specific device, and just watch it whenever and wherever they want.
Apple, which now controls a huge chunk of the music business through iTunes, also wants to get to that place of ultimate convenience, and has been moving in that direction for some time.
The company has already got AirPlay, which lets users play songs from any iTunes device through an Apple TV. And this week Apple said the new version of its iOS operating system will enable users to play music and video stored on one device on the screen of a second device, over WiFi.
If and when Apple gets the music industry to agree to repeated downloads, there's no longer any real barrier to cloud-based, streaming music -- where listeners won't have to wait for downloads, because they'll be able to immediately play any song in their online music collection.
The e-book industy has largely pioneered this approach: If you buy an Amazon e-book, you can download it to your Kindle, your PC, and any smartphone or tablet with the Kindle app installed. The same is true for books bought through Google. Even Apple's iBookStore allows users to sync their books between the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
This is increasingly also the case with movies and TV shows, where services like Netflix allow users with monthly subscriptions to watch movies and TV on any Netflix-enabled device, whether that's a Roku box or a TiVo, an iPad, an iPhone, Windows Phones and soon, Android. You can watch these movies and films as many times as you want.
Though newspaper and magazine publishers are a little further behind the game, they''ll all be multiplatform soon too. The for-pay Wall Street Journal, already on the iPad, was early in releasing an Android app, and magazine publisher Condé Nast has said Android additions are on the way too.
When it comes to ease of accessing content you've bought online, the only real holdout is the music industry.
On the league-leading iTunes system, users have long been frustrated with their inability to keep all their purchased music in one central place. The result is often a set of Apple devices -- a Mac, an iPhone and an iPad, say -- all with different fragments of your music collection. That collection, incidentally, does not reside on a remote server, but on your own devices -- so if you've been downloading music from Apple for years on a series of devices, it becomes a confusing jumble.
That's why Bloomberg's report makes sense: Apple doesn't like clutter. What they like is allowing people to easily buy things, and be able to access them without friction -- the better to get people to buy even more.
The remaining question may be: If the record companies jump on board with this model, will they let users who bought songs through Apple listen to the songs on non-Apple devices?
Or would that be too easy...
Live blog: Apple's iPad 2 event from San Francisco
Apple to make big iTunes announcement Tuesday -- cloud-based music everywhere? (It wasn't)
No Apple iPad 2 pre-orders; online sales begin March 11
-- David Sarno