Apple’s iCloud is out, offering coverage to music lovers everywhere. On Monday, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company formally announced its iCloud service to enable iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac and PC users to get content from Apple’s servers.

Although the focus is on music, iCloud can offer access to any kind of content — photos, videos, documents — and changes to that content will be reflected across all accessing devices.

‘A Real Hassle’

Apple cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs said “today, it is a real hassle and very frustrating to keep all your information and content up to date across all your devices.” With iCloud, he said, “all of this happens automatically and wirelessly.”

The service will take over all the MobileMe features, such as Contacts, Calendar and Mail. Apps and e-books purchased in Apple’s App Store and iBookstore will also be available in the iCloud, and tapping the iCloud icon will download the content to any iOS device. Up to 10 devices will be supported at no additional cost.

When an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch is charged, iCloud Backup automatically backs up the content via Wi-Fi. This includes all music, apps or books purchased from iTunes as well as photos, videos, device settings, and data relating to apps. When a new iOS device is acquired, a user enters his or her Apple ID and password into iCloud, and all the user’s content is downloaded to the device.

Any previously purchased iTunes music can be downloaded from iCloud to iOS devices at no additional cost, while new iTunes purchases are automatically downloaded to all the supported devices.
Music from non-iTunes sources can be made available in iCloud, if Apple has it in its library, using its new iTunes Match service. The $24.99-per-year service attempts to find the non-iTunes music in iCloud, and will make available a 256-kbps AAC DRM-free version if it does. If not, iCloud acts as a storage locker and the unmatched music is uploaded.

‘A Shift’ in Philosophy

Any document created with an iCloud Storage API is automatically stored online and pushed to devices. Apple gave the example of photos taken at a family event, which are then automatically available for sharing on iCloud.
Michael Gartenberg, research director at the Gartner Group, said the iCloud announcement represents “a shift in their philosophy,” in which iCloud becomes the “glue that ties all of their devices together.” It’s much more than “an online storage locker,” he noted. “It’s about synchronicity, and having your content wherever and whenever you want it.”

iTunes in the Cloud is available now for free in the U.S. and requires iTunes 10.3 and iOS 4.3.3, or, for PCs, Windows Vista or Windows 7. The service will be available in the fall for iOS 5 devices and a Mac OS X Lion computer. It provides 5GB of free cloud storage for Mail, Documents and Backup, and iTunes-purchased content doesn’t count toward the storage limit.