Patent Application Suggests Apple Began “Seamless” iCloud in 2009

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A patent application suggests that Apple has been working on developing a media cloud service that is both “seamless” and “invisible” to end-users since at least November of 2009. The patent application describes methods for combining remote and local storage and playback methods to offer users access to their entire media library from multiple devices.

Uncovered by PatentlyApple, the patent application is titled “Local Storage of a Portion of Streamed Media Items,” and it was filed on November 13th of 2009 and published May 19th, 2011. In the application, Apple makes the case that a combination of library size and limitations to streaming technologies combined to make for unsatisfactory experiences when trying to take one’s library with them.

To solve this, Apple describes several methods in great detail that could be used to overcome these hurdles and allow users to have instant access to all of their media wherever they might be. These methods include the possibility of storing only part of a file on a local device (like an iPod, iPhone, iPad, Mac, or PC), with the rest being stored in the cloud (i.e. Apple’s servers).

Apple Patent Application Image

Apple patent application image abstractly illustrating the concept of using local and remote sources for media playback

This could include storing only the beginning of a song or video file, or storing only a percentage of a file (say the first three seconds of every ten second segment), so that it some of the file is played locally, and the rest streamed, with Apple’s solution managing the experience. This method is illustrated in the image below.

Apple Patent Application Image

Figure 4 from Apple’s patent application illustrates a method for storing part of a file locally and other parts remotely

“Then,” Apple wrote in the application, “when a user selects a particular media item to play back, the electronic device can initially play back the locally stored initial portion or clip of media item, and subsequently play back the received media stream from the end of the locally stored portion. The transition from the locally stored portion and the streamed media can be seamless and invisible to the user.”

Other methods describe selectively transferring all or part of a library to a device for offline consumption, and a variety of other methods. The application also includes a variety of account-based methods for limiting access to the cloud-stored libraries to only those authorized to do so.

Another illustration, seen below, demonstrates that users would have control over whether or not they were using these methods when syncing their own media libraries. Such controls would mean that users would not be forced into using Apple’s cloud service to store and access their files.

Apple Patent Application Image

The highlighted portion of Figure 3 shows user controls for how they sync their libraries.

This is only a patent application, and like all large technology companies, Apple files hundreds of applications for technologies and ideas that may never see the light of day. This particular application, however, dovetails very nicely with persistent rumors that Apple is working on launching a service it may call “iCloud” in the next few weeks or months.

If Apple is granted the patent, it could also offer big leverage over the services launched by Amazon and Google earlier this year. That leverage could be as simple as Apple being able to offer a superior experience to the company being able to to prevent the competition from employing the methods described in the patents in their own services.

If the company does launch a service as described in the patent application, it will also be an excellent demonstration of how Apple is usually able to bring products and services to market only when they are ready, rather than as reactions to the competition. Amazon and Google both got the drop in launching cloud locker services (as did companies like Spotify and various other services), but what’s described in the patent application far exceeds anything else on the market.

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2 Comments

xmattingly

This streaming method kind of reminds me of how bit torrents work. I seem to remember a rumor from a few years ago that Apple was interested in torrent technology… I wonder if there is a connection.

This is actually a pretty cool idea, until you start thinking about the “what if’s”. Like what happens if you have no connection to the cloud (which would often be the case with an iPod) and all your songs are partially synced… wouldn’t an MP3 player full of broken tracks be pretty frustrating? I also wonder how much this will jack up your data usage, and what the cost of data transfer vs. convenience would be.

I know the rumor mill is all a-twitter over what Apple’s cooking with their ginormous data center(s), but there seems to be too many gotcha’s with this “seamless cloud”, so I hope this isn’t it.

kimhill

This sounds reminiscent of music sample-playing technology. I believe that just part of a note was stored in RAM, so it can start playing immediately, while the rest of the sample streams in from hard disk. I think Gigasampler was based on some kind of similar patent.

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