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Whoa! Apple Patent Confirms iTunes Cloud Media Services

1 Apple Patent Confirms iTunes Cloud Based Media Cloud Services - may 2011 
In January we pointed to a possible HP music cloud service that could debut with their future TouchPad tablet due to their 3par acquisition. Such a service had the potential of upsetting Apple's iTunes kingdom. Then word broke in April that Apple was acquiring iCloud followed by news in May that Apple signed a cloud-music licensing agreement with EMI Music and others. Today, a new Apple patent application dating back to Q4 2009 shows that Apple has been working on a cloud based media service for some time. Apple's patent details a very unique approach to cloud based services using iTunes which they describe as being "seamless and invisible to the user."  


The Problems with Today's Stored & Streaming Media Systems


Many electronic devices could play back one or more types of media items such as audio or video files. The device could locally store media files in storage (e.g., on a hard drive or in a solid state drive). To play back locally stored media items, the electronic device could retrieve the locally stored media and direct it to a playback process.


As another example, the device could stream media files from a remote source (e.g., a content server operated by a content generator or a content sales point). To play back a remote media files, the electronic device could direct communications circuitry to establish a communications path with the remote content source. Once the communications path has been established, the content source could provide the requested media item to the device. Once the device has locally cached a sufficient amount of the media item, the electronic device could begin streamed media playback.


These approaches, however, may have limitations. In particular, an electronic device could have a limited amount of available storage, which may be exceeded by the user's media library. The user may then be prevented from storing the entire library on the electronic device. This may force the user to select only a subset of the library, and may in turn cause the user to rarely listen to or forget about media items of the user's media library.


Similarly, streaming media could have limitations. In particular, the electronic device could require an active communications path with a content source. In addition, the electronic device may not begin playback until at least the beginning of the media items has been cached. When the electronic device is unaware of the next media item to play back, the electronic device could require undesired pauses between media items. Similarly, when a user skips to a different media item for playback, the electronic device could require a pause during which no media item is played back as the new media item is streamed to the device. This may limit the user's ability to enjoy the user's media library and the user's electronic device.


Apple's Unique Cloud Solution


Apple's patent and invention is directed to locally storing portions of a media item that is streamed to an electronic device. In particular, Apple's invention is directed to locally storing an initial portion of a media item from a user's library, and requesting a stream of the remaining portion of the media item upon starting local playback of the initial portion.


The media items owned or accessible by a user could be stored in a user's media library. The media library could be stored on any suitable device, including for example on a host device, on a remotely accessed server, in a cloud, or in any other suitable location. The user could store at least some media items of the library on an electronic device so that the user could locally play back the media items. The electronic device could include communications circuitry for remotely connecting to the media library and stream media items to the user's device.


An iTunes Based Cloud Service


In some embodiments, the electronic device could remotely connect to the user's library. In some embodiments, the electronic device could instead or in addition connect to a content source such as (e.g., a content generator or a content point of sale – which could be associated with Apple's iTunes and others like Amazon) to stream the media items. To ensure that devices could only stream media items that the user has purchased or to which the user otherwise has legal access, the content source could require an authentication scheme (e.g., a username and password, or a secure token). In some embodiments, the streamed media items could instead or in addition include missing elements that an electronic device must retrieve and locally store from the user's media library (e.g., remove 3 seconds of every 10 seconds of a media item, such that the missing 3 seconds are retrieved and locally stored on the device from a user's media library).


Stored and Cloud Media in Sync


The electronic device could receive and locally store initial portions of media items in the electronic device. When a user then instructs the device to play back a media item, the electronic device could initiate playback of the locally stored portion of media item while requesting a stream from the user's media library for the remaining portion of the media item. The duration of the initial portion of the media item could be selected such that a sufficient amount of the remaining portion of the media item stream could be received and cached by the time playback of the initial portion is completed. This could allow the device to seamlessly switch playback from the initial portion to the streamed remaining portion of the media item.


Overview of the Cloud System


According to Apple's patent, the user's media library could be hosted by another device, and particular media items of the user's library synched to the electronic device. Apple's patent FIG. 2 shown below is a schematic view of an illustrative communications system including an electronic device and a host device.


Communications system 200 may include electronic device 202, such as an iPhone or iPad 3G, and communications network 210 which the electronic device may use to perform wired or wireless communications with other devices within the communications network.


2 - An Overview of Apple's iTunes Cloud Service System - apple patent may 2011 

Host device 220 may include any suitable type of device operative to host a media library and provide media files to an electronic device. For example, the host device may include a computer (e.g., a desktop or laptop computer), a server (e.g., a server available over the Internet or using a dedicated communications path), a kiosk, or any other suitable device. The host device may transfer media files of a media library to an electronic device using any suitable approach. In some embodiments, the host device could run an application dedicated to providing a communications interface between the host device and the electronic device (e.g., iTunes, available from Apple Inc.).


The user's media library could be stored on any suitable device. In some embodiments, the media library could be stored entirely or in part in a host device. Alternatively, the media library could be stored entirely or in part in a content source. The content source 230 could include any suitable device accessible to one or both of electronic devices and host device within communications network. In some embodiments, the content source could include a cloud in which the user's media library is stored. The transition from the locally stored portion and the streamed media could be seamless and invisible to the user.


A Future View of iTunes App with Sync Partial Music Option


In some embodiments, the user will be able to enable a partial storage/streaming option on their iTunes application as shown below in patent FIG. 3. Noteworthy is patent point and option # 340 which illustrates a selectable box 342 associated with storing only portions of a media item. In particular, in response to receiving a user selection of box 342, iTunes could select segments of each media item corresponding to the user's selection criteria to store on the electronic device. The host device could select segments of any suitable length, and at any suitable position within the media item for local storage. For example, the media segments or portions could be selected from the beginning of a media item (e.g., the first 30 seconds of a song).


3b - A Future View of Your iTunes App wit New Options - Sync Partial Music - apple patent may 2011  

Apple also notes that the user will be able to enter the speed of the network they're using and the patent points to 3G, WiFi and believe it or not 5G which is quite the leap.


Built-in Security


To prevent unauthorized streaming from a user's media library, Apple states that a user will be able to define one or more security schemes for the library. In some embodiments, the user will be able to establish an authentication scheme for ensuring that only devices owned by the user and authorized by the user.


For example, the media library could require a user name and password combination from the electronic device before providing a media stream. In particular, a user could enter a username and password associated with the media library, which could be checked against a database of authorized usernames and passwords (e.g., username and password combinations for each member of a family).


As another example, the media library could provide a media stream to all requesting devices, but encrypt the transmitted media stream using a key that is known only to the user of the electronic device. To avoid denial-of-service type issues, where many unauthorized requests overwhelm the media library, the media library may request and require a response from the electronic device, where the response is a string or other information from the encrypted media stream. The media library and electronic device could use combinations of these or any other suitable authentication or securing scheme to ensure that only the user can access his remote media library.


Media Item Data Structure for the Cloud


Apple's patent FIG. 4 is a schematic view of an illustrative media item data structure having several discontinuous locally stored segments. Media item 400 could be partially stored on the user's electronic device, and partially streamed upon a user request.


4 - Apple's iTunes Media Item Data Structure for the Cloud - patent May 2011 

In one implementation, the media item could include several discontinuous segments (see patent points # 410 above) that are locally stored on the device, and intermediate segments (see patent points # 420 above) that are streamed between discontinuous segments. The electronic device could stream and cache segments 420 such that the device seamlessly switches playback between segments 410 and 420.


The particular portions of the media item that are locally stored (e.g., single segments 410) could be selected using any suitable approach. In some embodiments, the electronic device could store only a single segment from the beginning of media item. As another example, the electronic device could include segments at regular intervals or important portions of the media item (e.g., to provide an authentication scheme).


The Cloud Service Covers Books & Bookmarks as Well


As still another example, the electronic device could include segments 410 starting at or including markers 430 within the media item. In particular, each marker 430 could indicate a chapter marker in an audio book, or other moment to which a user could skip media playback. By providing a segment that includes the marker (e.g., locally storing portions of the media item before and after the marker), a user could skip to a marked playback position and immediately begin playback from the marked position.


Music Cloud Service Flowcharts


Apple's patent FIG. 8 is a flowchart of an illustrative process for generating locally stored portions of a media item; in patent FIG. 9 we see a flowchart of an illustrative process for authenticating a request for a stream received by a media library.


5 - Flowcharts Associated with Apple's Cloud Based Music Service - patent 2011 

Apple credits Benjamin Rottler and Allen Haughay (who worked on Apple's recent patent relating to High Octane iTunes App for Ping) as the inventors of patent application 20110118858, originally filed in Q4 2009.


Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for further details. Patents shouldn't be digested as rumors or fast-tracked according to rumor time tables. Apple patents represent true research that could lead to future products and should be understood in that light. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.


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