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Apple to acquire music streamer Lala?

The future of music may be cloudy

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Updated Apple is said to be in acquisition talks with online music-streaming service Lala.

This rumor comes from Bloomberg, which reported it on Friday, citing none other than the ever-gabby "people familiar with the matter."

The music-delivery method used by the Lala service is radically different from that employed by Apple in its iTunes Store - which may account for Cupertino's interest in the privately owned Lala.

On the Lala website you can listen to a song or album in its collection of 8 million songs for free - once. After that, one thin dime "buys" each track - meaning that the tune is kept on Lala's servers for you to stream and listen to at your future convenience.

You don't "own" a ten-cent Lala tune in the traditional sense - that is, it never downloads to your local computer's hard drive. Your ownership is the right to listen to those tunes from the cloud. You can, however, choose to spend an additional 79¢ to download an actual MP3 file of a dime-acquired tune.

You can also choose to take advantage of Lala's Music Mover feature, which matches songs you already own and reside on your computer to tunes in the Lala catalog, thus allowing you to access those tunes from any browser, anywhere.

Apple's iTunes is straightforward - or, to put a different spin on it - crude in comparison: you pays yer money, you downloads yer tunes.

Of course, Apple does have significant strengths over those of Lala. At 11 million tunes its catalog is larger than Lala's, but more importantly it has significant clout both with consumers and with music labels due to its position as, according to Apple, "the world's most popular online music, TV and movie store".

What it doesn't have - at least, what it hasn't announced as having - is the technology for tracking and monetizing a streaming-music service that resides in the cloud and is available from any browser, anywhere, including on an iPhone, iPod touch, or a future iWhatever such as a tablet or media pad.

If the Bloomberg rumor is accurate, Cupertino might be planning to save a chunk of internal-development change by acquiring both the technology to do just that and the brains that developed that technology. ®

Update

On Sunday, Apple's corporate spokesman Steve Dowling confirmed Cupertino's purchase of Lala, but declined to give further details. "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time," Dowling told the Associated Press, "and we generally do not comment on our purchase or plans."

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