Sony Reportedly On Board For Apple Streaming Music Service; Universal Next?

Another domino has fallen as Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) methodically inks deals with the biggest names in the recording industry for what is believed to be its first step into an online subscription music service. With its Worldwide Developers Conference just two and a half weeks away, Sony (NYSE: SNE) has reportedly joined forces with Apple to allow iTunes users access to its content.

Sony’s Michael Paull, a panelist this week at paidContent Mobile 2011, turned visibly red when asked point-blank by paidContent’s Staci Kramer during a discussion on mobile music whether Apple would launch a subscription music service within a year, but didn’t comment one way or another. Now Bloomberg is reporting that Sony has joined EMI and Warner Music as partners in what is probably going to wind up being called iCloud: a new online service from Apple utilizing a new data center in North Carolina that involves a relaunch of its MobileMe service as well as, for the first time, a streaming subscription service for mobile devices. Universal Music Group remains the lone holdout but a deal is expected with that company as well.

For years Apple has shrugged off suggestions that it should launch such a service, arguing that unlike movies or television shows, people want to own their favorite music and have it always at their disposal. That may have been true a few years ago, but the advent of faster wireless networks and more sophisticated mobile devices means that it’s much more feasible to have a streaming service that works anywhere you go.

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) have launched so-called “music locker” services, but those services only let users upload their existing song library onto servers for access from any Internet-connected computer. Given that it has signed deals with major labels and that it purchased innovative cloud-music company Lala, Apple’s service would also allow you to add music to your collection and get access to songs online by having the service scan your hard drive for the songs you already own: no hours-long uploading process required.

In trademark fashion, Apple has declined to comment on these reports, but it has become pretty clear this year that Apple is taking its Web strategy much more seriously than in the past.