How cloud entertainment will burst the digital stratosphere

20 Sep 2011

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All eyes will be on Facebook’s developer conference F8 this week to see what Facebook is really planning around a digital entertainment hub in the cloud. My guess is this will really be the moment Facebook will go toe-to-toe with Apple, which is fostering its own iCloud services.

You see, when we talk about cloud, a lot of the time we’re talking about the business and enterprise markets and what’s happening from a Microsoft or enterprise perspective.

The reality – and Steve Ballmer admitted it last week – is consumers are today far more advanced in their use of the cloud than most businesses are. Of course that will change. But for most internet users today, without realising it we inherently trust the cloud – we know who we can tag in our photographs and we know what we’ve shared will go out to those we want to share it with.

Services like Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail and iTunes, and of course, our evolving use of smartphones and tablets, have done more than any other technologies to reinforce this cloud lifestyle that many don’t realise they’re already living.

The rumour mill this week is centred on Facebook’s F8 developer conference, where one of the biggest changes expected to be revealed is the conversion of a user’s profile page into a sort of digital entertainment dashboard. How cool would that be?

I already share more than enough YouTube videos of my favourite songs. The problem with this vast digital universe is choice. There’s so much there that often I don’t know what I’m searching for in terms of music and video.

What is likely is a platform that will allow cloud music services like Spotify, Last.fm and Rhapsody to flourish. How cool would it be to know what friends are listening to?

Another rumour is new buttons like ‘Listened’, ‘Read’ and ‘Watched’, which again helps us all to find stuff in terms of music, books and movies. And, of course, let’s not forget video games. Facebook makes a fortune through video games, as do app platforms like Zynga.

The move ties in neatly with some clever things Facebook has begun doing of late, such as allowing users to rent BBC programmes like Top Gear for 24 hours, watch the first kick match of the FA Cup on Budweiser’s home page and watching the Dark Knight movie.

In the grandiose scheme of things, perhaps your Facebook page will become a digital repository of all the media you enjoy whether you want to access these on your gaming console, your smartphone, your tablet, your PC or your digital TV.

But who else has a competing vision? I’ll tell you who: Apple.

Will cloud entertainment bring Apple and Facebook together or to war?

Apple has already released iCloud to developers, has signed up all the major record labels, but its success so far with social media has been poor – does anybody use Ping?

Granted, iCloud appears to be directed at being a massive storage vault for digital content. As former Apple CEO Steve Jobs said himself: “All of our devices can talk to the cloud at any time. iCloud stores your content and wirelessly pushes it to all your devices. It is integrated with your apps so everything happens automatically.”

Ultimately, people will turn increasingly to social media to inform their music choices and that’s why Apple created Ping. That’s why Amazon is pushing its music locker services and Google wants a piece of the action, too.

Two scenarios are likely to emerge. Firstly, with its 750m users and a digital entertainment dashboard, Facebook could eclipse everyone in terms of being a conduit for digital content, no doubt getting its cut from a share of the sales from apps like Spotify or Rhapsody and emerging as a rival with Apple as a place to rent movies and buy tunes.

Or, in a second tantalising scenario, perhaps Apple and Facebook will work together on something. For example, Facebook has been mighty slow bringing out its iPad app and it is expected at this week’s F8. Perhaps … just perhaps … this app could feature some tantalising integration with Apple’s forthcoming iCloud.

Tantalising as it seems, my money is currently on the first scenario.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com