Next week, Apple will finally confirm years of rumors of taking iTunes to the cloud and unveil iCloud, their media locker service that will automatically scan and match your existing iTunes library for streaming to any iOS device.
In some ways, though, iCloud’s taken too long to get here. The era of unlimited bandwidth is over. In the last year we’ve seen both mobile carriers and ISP broadband providers impose severe data caps on their users. The vast majority of iPhone and iPad customers only have 2GB of data per month to play with. How much media can you really stream with a 2GB data cap?
Let’s find out!
We know for sure that when iCloud launches, it’ll support streaming music, if not necessarily video. So how much music can you really stream on a 2GB data plan?
Rdio keeps that information close to their breast, but Spotify’s open about the quality of their streams. They offer three different streams of varying bitrates, which they adjust according to connection. The lowest quality is 96kbps (roughly radio quality), the medium quality is 160kbps and the highest-quality streams are CD quality as 320kbps.
What does that mean in real world terms? To find out, we took one of Steve Jobs’ favorite albums, Rubber Soul by The Beatles, and converted it into 96kbps, 160kbps and 320kbps copies. Then we did the tests.
Here’s how many hours of music streaming you can do on a 2GB data plan.
96kbps (Radio Quality) — 45.76 hours of streaming per month
160kbps (3G Quality) — 27.52 hours of streaming per month
320kbps (CD Quality) — 13.79 hours of streaming per month
Spotify offers CD quality 320kbps streams only over WiFi: streaming over 3G is done at a rate of 160kbps. We imagine Apple will do the same, while also offering the option to bump down the quality even further for those who want to make the most of their data plans, but that will come at a cost: your music will sound radio quality.
Conclusion? On a standard 2GB plan, you will be able to listen to just over 65 minutes of medium quality music stored in the iCloud each day over 3G before hitting your data cap… and that’s without using any data for anything else!
That’s probably just fine for most users, especially if you have access to WiFi most of the day, but if you spend several hours a day commuting and are hoping to use iCloud instead of local storage, you might want to think again.
If an hour’s a day worth of music streaming from the iCloud over 3G seems a little chintzy to you, we’re sorry to tell you that streaming video from the iCloud is an even grimmer proposition. But as an experiment, let’s be morbid. Just how much video can you stream over a 2GB plan?