Last week, Apple launched what the company calls the "second generation" of the iTunes Music Store with a slew of related announcements, including iTunes for Windows, a new version of iTunes for the Mac, several new marketing alliances for the iTunes Music Store, and a useful update to the iPod.
iTunes for Windows -- Most important of the announcements is undoubtedly the release of iTunes for Windows, which opens up the iTunes Music Store to oodles of Windows users and takes over as the primary interface to PC-connected iPods. Without a close examination (installing and testing PC software isn't high on our list of priorities in busy weeks), it sounds as though iTunes for Windows is extremely similar to iTunes for the Mac. iTunes 4.1 for Windows requires Windows 2000 or XP running on a PC with at least a 500 MHz Pentium-class processor and 128 MB of RAM. It also needs QuickTime 6.4, which is included in the iTunes for Windows download, accounting for part of its 19.1 MB.
When we covered the announcement of iTunes for Windows last week, we said, "Look for perky press releases from Apple in the coming weeks that gloat about the number of downloads from Windows users." We called it - Apple today announced that more than one million copies of iTunes for Windows were downloaded in the first three and a half days after it was released. Also in that time, iTunes users purchased more than one million songs. There's some pent up demand on the part of Windows users - when Apple first released the iTunes Music Store, it took a full seven days to reach the one million song mark.
iTunes for the Mac -- Also released simultaneously last week via Software Update were QuickTime 6.4 and iTunes 4.1 for Mac OS X. iTunes 4.1 enables you to synchronize On-The-Go playlists or voice notes that you create on your iPod with iTunes, can burn large playlists to multiple CDs or DVDs if necessary, lets you drag links from iTunes to Web browsers or email programs (you can also Control-click links and choose Copy iTunes Music Store URL), and lets you buy Audible spoken word content from the iTunes Music Store. iTunes 4.1 is a 6.2 MB download and QuickTime 6.4 is a 19.8 download.
iTunes Music Store Changes -- The new link copying capabilities of iTunes reveal some interesting implications of the iTunes Music Store. First off, every song in the iTunes Music Store now has a unique identifier, much like an ISBN number for books. We're guessing it's an ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) code, which are specific to individual recordings (even of the same song). ISRC codes are free, although they aren't necessarily trivial to acquire. In the U.S., they're available via the RIAA (yes, that RIAA, the Recording Industry Association of America, bringers of litigation against twelve year-olds). Internationally, the a good place to start is the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry).
Second, Apple has created a Web-based tool for searching Apple's music offerings, and which generates HTML that you can use to link directly to any song in the iTunes Music Store. Unfortunately, Apple has said the financial margins are too thin for the company to offer any sort of an affiliate program, which would be an ideal use for this type of linking; but people will still no doubt be interested in adding song and album lists to their Web pages or weblogs that go directly to the iTunes Music Store.
Along with these changes to support deep linking, notice that the iTunes Music Store now supports gift certificates and monthly allowances for song purchases, and that iTunes displays album notes, sometimes including reviews, for many albums. We echoed the comments of many iTunes Music Store users with respect to all three issues back when the iTunes Music Store first launched, so it's nice to see these changes.
Apple is now claiming that by the end of October, the iTunes Music Store will have 400,000 songs provided by the five major labels and more than 200 independent music labels. That's twice as many songs as were available initially in the iTunes Music Store. It's also the first public word from Apple about offering music from independent labels, though it has been known that Apple has been working with independent labels for several months. We're a bit surprised that Apple isn't saying more about the addition of the independents, unless Apple is either planning another announcement soon or downplaying the addition to avoid harming the relationship with the major labels.
Audible -- Apple also announced the addition to the iTunes Music Store of more than 5,000 titles of Audible's spoken word content: audio books, radio shows, audio editions of magazines, speeches, lectures, and more. Audio books seem to be either the same price or $1 cheaper than the same titles on Audible's Web site (for non-subscribers of Audible's $15 and $20 monthly plans, which are likely still a better deal for those who listen to two or more audio books each month).
The ease of use of the iTunes Music Store may significantly increase the attraction of Audible's spoken word content. It's easy to see, for instance, quickly purchasing an audio book to play in your iPod on a long car trip - just the effort of doing that through Audible's generic Web interface before might have been a significant barrier.
AOL, Sugared Water to Promote iTMS -- On the marketing side of the equation, Apple announced two substantial initiatives designed to keep the iTunes Music Store leading the pack of legal online music distribution services. Apple's agreement with AOL will give an estimated 25 million AOL users in the United States single-click registration to the iTunes Music Store by integrating the entire iTunes catalog into AOL's existing music site, AOL Music. Under the agreement, by the end of 2003 AOL users will be able to preview and purchase music from the iTunes Music Store just as any other registered iTunes user. Apple wins by radically expanding the potential customer base for the iTunes Music Store, and AOL wins by hitching its online music offerings to the most successful commercial digital music distribution system around, rather than having to compete against it.
In addition, Apple is teaming with Pepsi - once famously characterized by Steve Jobs (when trying to convince John Sculley to become Apple's CEO) as a provider of "sugared water" - to give away up to 100 million songs via the iTunes Music Store. Beginning 01-Feb-04 with a Super Bowl advertisement, winning codes will be randomly seeded in the bottle caps of 100 million one-liter and twenty-ounce bottles of the company's Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, and Sierra Mist soft drinks. Consumers will be able to enter a winning code into the iTunes Music Store and choose any 99 cent song from the iTunes Music Store catalog. (Complete details aren't available yet, but don't be surprised if this promotion is limited to U.S. residents.)
Of course, to redeem a winning bottle cap, the consumer must have appropriate iTunes and QuickTime software installed on a Mac or Windows system, thus putting the iTunes software in front of millions of sugar-crazed eyeballs which might never have considered iTunes otherwise. Although it may seem odd to give away as many as 100 million songs when to date the iTunes Music store has sold only 14 million tracks, you can bet Apple and Pepsi realize not all 100 million codes will be successfully redeemed, and that Apple will only have to pay distributors and music publishers for successfully redeemed codes. There's no limit on the number of codes someone can redeem, so we'll probably see a market springing up to find and redeem caps that would otherwise have gone unused.
In all, the initiative could be a tremendous boost for the iTunes service, and Apple CEO Steve Jobs is correct when he states, "Pepsi has marketed their products through music for generations, and this is going to be another one that is remembered for decades" - we just hope it isn't remembered the same way we remember Michael Jackson's hair catching on fire.
iPod 2.1 Update and Belkin Accessories -- Alongside these iTunes and iTunes Music Store announcements, Apple has updated the software for recent iPods (those equipped with a dock connector). iPod Software 2.1, available from Software Update, now transfers the On-The-Go playlist to iTunes, no longer turns the backlight off after a few seconds while you're using the iPod's controls, changes the battery meter to a solid bar from a set of five indicator levels, and improves scrolling through large playlists. For Windows users, the update enables playback of AAC-encoded music files, such as those purchased from the iTunes Music Store. The update also adds a Music Quiz game: the iPod plays a selection of music from your library, and you need to choose the correct song from a list of five titles.
More interestingly, the iPod Software 2.1 also supports two new Belkin accessories, also announced last week. The $50 Belkin iPod Voice Recorder plugs into the top of the iPod and enables you to record hours of voice memos, interviews, and lectures using an omnidirectional microphone. The device includes a 16 mm speaker for playback, requires no extra software, and synchronizes voice notes to iTunes when the iPod is connected to a Mac or Windows computer.
Of more utility to travelers is the $100 Belkin Media Reader for iPod, a device that plugs into the iPod's dock connector port and accepts a variety of storage cards used in digital cameras: Compact Flash (Type 1 and 2), Smart Media, Secure Digital (SD), Sony Memory Stick, and MultiMedia Card (MMC). You can use the Belkin Media Reader to store digital photos on the iPod for later transfer to a computer. iPhoto recognizes the iPod as a photo storage device and can import the pictures into your photo library. With the Belkin Media Reader for iPod, you'll be able to take just your digital camera and iPod on vacation, without having to worry about lugging your laptop along just to download photos. Of course, you can't view the photos on the iPod itself; perhaps a future iPod with a color screen will make that possible.
The New Standard -- With these changes, Apple has cemented the position of the iTunes Music Store as the leading online music service. It's cross-platform, simple to use, doesn't rely on egregious copy protection, and has Apple's marketing muscle behind it. If any serious competition is going to appear, it will have to kick in soon.
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