Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc, has unveiled the iCloud, a music-streaming and online data-storage service that can be accessed on devices from the iPad to the iPhone.
Jobs made the announcement on Monday at Apple's Worldwide Developers' Conference in downtown San Francisco's Moscone Center.
The Silicon Valley icon emerged from medical leave to launch the service - called the iCloud - which lets users play their music and get access to their data from any Apple device, a crucial capability for users increasingly accustomed to performing tasks on the move.
In cloud computing, data and software are stored on servers and devices get access to them through the internet.
Analysts say the iCloud could create a new model for media consumption - bringing the cloud, which corporations are already familiar with, to many consumer devices.
A race with rivals
The iCloud feature catapults Apple past Google Inc and Amazon.com. Known as iTunes Match, it scans users' hard drives and automatically makes the songs it finds available on the iCloud.
In contrast, users of Google and Amazon cloud-based storage have to upload every song themselves.
Apple's expansion into cloud computing comes as the company strives to stay a step ahead of rivals in the mobile and online content business.
It could ignite more demand for devices from the iPhone to the iPad, while helping sales of music through iTunes.
Jobs laid out his vision for the iCloud, saying people will be able to share book purchases, music and data in general, such as calendar items, across different devices, while backing up and updating information regularly.
Apple will provide five gigabytes of cloud storage - enough for about 1,000 songs - for free, but will charge an
undisclosed fee in the future for extra space.
Jobs said the iCloud beta version will be available on Monday for free. Starting later this year, users would then pay $24.99 annually to have their song libraries available on iTunes for playback on any Apple gadget.