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Series: iTunes Music Store
Can Apple revolutionize digital music?
Article 1 of 14 in series
by Geoff Duncan
Apple today unveiled the iTunes Music Store, a commercial Internet music service featuring more than 200,000 tracks from the five largest music labels and available via a new Music Store playlist entry in the popular (and still free) iTunes 4 music playback and disc burning softwareShow full article
Apple today unveiled the iTunes Music Store, a commercial Internet music service featuring more than 200,000 tracks from the five largest music labels and available via a new Music Store playlist entry in the popular (and still free) iTunes 4 music playback and disc burning software. The iTunes Music Store requires Mac OS X 10.1.5 or higher, iTunes 4 (an 8.3 MB download), and QuickTime 6.2 (a separate 18.4 MB download).
Unlike existing commercial music services such as Rhapsody and PressPlay, the iTunes Music Store offers both individual tracks and albums for sale and does not require a subscription, although customers may currently purchase only using a valid credit card billable to a United States address using Apple's 1-Click accounts. The iTunes Music Store also allows customers to burn purchased tracks to CD or DVD discs (an unlimited of times for individual songs; up to ten times for an unchanged playlist), and to transfer tracks to players and up to three different Macs. Also unlike every other commercial music service, the iTunes Music Store is Mac-first and currently Mac-only.
The iTunes Music Store offers individual tracks for sale from artists on the world's five largest record labels - Universal, Sony, BMG, EMI, and Warner. The store's catalog currently features over 200,000 selections, and Apple says the list will be expanding quickly (they'll even send you email every Tuesday with promotions and new additions). Importantly, the entire iTunes Music Store catalog is browsable within iTunes 4 by genre, artist, and album, and a 30-second audio preview is available for every track on the service. Many tracks also feature cover art and some even offer videos. New selections, staff favorites, and featured artists will also be called out separately. Once signed up, you can purchase individual tracks or entire albums with a single click. Individual tracks start at 99 cents; albums are typically priced between $10 and $15. Availability of specific tracks and artists may vary a bit: some artists don't permit the sale of individual tracks, so customers may be able to purchase only entire albums, and some long-form tracks (such as extended live performances, spoken word recordings, environmental recordings, some classical music) may have prices higher than 99 cents. For users with low-speed connections, a shopping cart feature enables the batch purchase of tracks so selections can be downloaded all at once while you do something else.
Tracks available via iTunes Music Store are not MP3 files: instead, they're encoded using AAC (Advanced Audio Codec), a technology from Dolby Labs which is also incorporated into the MPEG-4 standard. At bit rates of 128 Kbps and above, AAC offers greater audio quality than MP3 encoding, although AAC doesn't necessarily do as well at lower bit rates (such as those suitable for modems). Using AAC also enables Apple to tap into the digital rights management (DRM) technologies rolled into QuickTime 6.2, preventing the tracks from being swapped as easily as MP3 files. Users can transfer AAC files purchased on iTunes Music Service to another computer, but iTunes 4 and other AAC playback software will require the original purchaser's ID and password to play them.
If the iTunes Music Store succeeds, expect Apple to ship a version that works for Windows users - much as they've done with the iPod player - and the company says they're working to make the iTunes Music Store available to international customers.
The real question is whether the iTunes Music Store's 1-Click shopping, music selection, and 99 cent price per track are enough to convince the users of song-swapping services to "get legal." The tracks for sale via iTunes Music Store are legitimate, legal copies of the music, but they're still part of the much-vilified commercial music industry, which many song-swappers don't want to support in any way, even at 99 cents per track. Music from independent artists and labels probably won't be available via the service unless a distribution agreement is in place with one of the so-called "big five" labels, and very little of the 99 cent purchase price is likely to make its way back to the folks who actually wrote, recorded, and produced the audio in any case. Looking forward, it would be interesting to see Apple explore an affiliate program with the iTunes Music Store, enabling independent labels and even individual artists offer tracks for sale. This might give Apple the best of both worlds: popular large-scale commercial releases from the major labels, and independent, quirky material which isn't beholden to the larger music industry.
Needless to say, the iTunes Music Store is being overwhelmed with traffic today, so don't be surprised to see errors while Apple works out the kinks and as the connection spikes settle down. That said, in our testing today, we were able to play previews and purchase songs, and the process appears simple and elegant, as one would expect from Apple.
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Article 2 of 14 in series
We've now had a week to play with the new iTunes Music Store, to analyze how well it is implemented, and to think about the effect it could have on Apple, the recording industry, artists, the peer-to-peer file sharing networks, and even physical music storesShow full article
We've now had a week to play with the new iTunes Music Store, to analyze how well it is implemented, and to think about the effect it could have on Apple, the recording industry, artists, the peer-to-peer file sharing networks, and even physical music stores. (See "iTunes Music Store Takes the Stage" and "Apple Cranks Up iTunes 4" in TidBITS-678 for our initial reports on Apple's new musical offerings.)
Digital Rights Management and Copy Prevention -- Let's be real. The reason the iTunes Music Store exists at all is because Apple is using AAC files that include digital rights management (DRM) technology. Without including some sort of DRM, Apple would have stood an igloo's chance in Florida of working out a deal to license songs from the major record labels. AAC isn't about digital rights management; it really is aimed at doing a better job - both in terms of compression and quality - than the MP3 format. But Apple's implementation of AAC also provides hooks for digital rights management that prevents casual copying.
Songs you purchase are protected using your iTunes Music Store authorization information. Any copy of iTunes (or any other appropriately QuickTime 6.2.2-savvy software - QuickTime Player works now) must know your authorization information to play the song. Plus, if you view iTunes' Get Info window for a song you've purchased, you'll see that it includes your name and email address. That alone is likely to cut down on copying, since many people would be uncomfortable distributing tracks that listed them as the instigator. And of course, it would be extremely easy for the RIAA's hordes of slavering lawyers to come after you (something they've been doing with increasing frequency to college students they allege are sharing large numbers of music files). The traditional dodge of providing a false name and email address will be more difficult to implement since the information comes from your Apple 1-Click account.
This DRM information enables Apple to implement four restrictions on how you can use songs you download, and although they're fairly reasonable, they're still restrictions. First, you can authorize only three Macs at a time to play a song. Three feels too low to me, since any single-digit restriction will have the effect Apple wants, but three can hamper perfectly legitimate users. For instance, Tonya and I each use a Power Mac G4 as our main computers; we serve music for our entire network of Macs from another Power Mac G4; we play music for the downstairs living area from a blueberry iBook; and we copy music to a newer iBook when we travel. That's five Macs right there, although our music server doesn't need to be authorized to share a protected file with an authorized computer. If you get a new Mac, you can deauthorize the old computer and authorize the new Mac; the problem occurs if your computer is stolen or destroyed, since you won't be able to deauthorize the lost copies of purchased music. If you simply replace your hard drive and restore purchased music from a backup, you must authorize your computer again, but it doesn't take one away from your total number of authorizations.
Second, although Apple lets you burn songs to audio CD as many times as you want, you can do so only 10 times before iTunes forces you to change the playlist you're using to burn. Perhaps because I've burned only a few audio CDs over time, this strikes me as a perfectly reasonable restriction that merely places a low hurdle in front of mass copying from the computer. Of course, once you've created an audio CD, there's nothing stopping you from making additional copies of that CD using Roxio's Toast or any other tool.
Third, when you use iTunes 4's Rendezvous sharing capabilities to share purchased music, the Macs with which you're sharing must be authorized to play your purchased tracks. That makes little sense to me, since all remote users can do is play the song - shared music can't be copied, added to a playlist, burnt to CD, or anything else that would seem concerning.
Fourth and finally, the use of AAC and digital rights management limits you to playing purchased music in iTunes 4 on a Mac and any iPod... for now. This restriction has already irritated Macintosh users who haven't made the jump to Mac OS X, but it shouldn't be at all surprising; Apple has continually encouraged legacy users to upgrade. Windows users may feel left out for now, but Apple is working on support for Windows in the future. Obviously, there's also no support for Unix variants other than Mac OS X, making the iTunes Music Store yet another way of attracting Unix users to the Mac. Also left out in the cold are all non-Apple portable MP3 players, which will no doubt annoy those who chose devices other than the critically acclaimed but pricey iPod.
Is Apple blundering by limiting the potential market for the iTunes Music Store so much? In the short term, no. It's likely that the only way Apple was able to negotiate the licensing deals with the record labels was because the potential user base was relatively small, thus limiting the damage should Apple's restrictions prove easily broken. Anecdotal reports also indicate that Apple's servers took a beating on the day of the iTunes Music Store announcement, even with the help of the Akamai distribution network. Running such a popular and heavily used service may not be unique, but I'm sure Apple's server administrators welcome the chance to scale the systems a bit more slowly than would have been necessary if Windows support had been present from the start. Windows support will arrive soon enough, and I wouldn't be surprised to see other portable music players supporting AAC and whatever else is necessary to work with Apple's DRM scheme.
But the question remains: how easy will it be for someone to convert one of Apple's protected AAC files into an MP3 file with no DRM or even identifying information? Not hard at all, in fact, because you can burn an audio CD from iTunes 4 of your purchased music, and then you can rip those files back to MP3, even retaining track names and other metadata. The process comes with some loss of quality that audiophiles will undoubtedly dislike but that won't bother most people (I can't hear it at all). The sheer popularity of MP3 files encoded at relatively low bit rates is proof enough that audio quality hasn't been a significant damper on the overall success of the MP3 format. There are also tools such as Audio Hijack that can capture the music being played to AIFF files you can convert to MP3, though using Audio Hijack felt a lot like using a cassette tape recorder. In fact, converting files to MP3 may be a good backup, just in case you run afoul of the authorization requirements due to a stolen Mac or other disaster.
All You Need Is User Experience -- But will people pay $1 per track when they can download the same songs for free from the peer-to-peer file sharing networks? I think so - Apple has a winner here, for the same reason the iPod is the leading portable music player despite its high price. Put bluntly, Apple cares deeply about user experience. That's not to imply that the user experience of the iTunes Music Store or all Apple's products is perfect, but the end result is almost always that Apple's product offers a better user experience than the competition.
The iTunes Music Store has a number of competitors. In the battle with physical music stores, the iTunes Music Store offers better searching and linking, lower prices ($10 for most albums), immediate gratification, no chance of stumbling across an intentionally corrupted audio CD, and the welcome granularity of being able to buy a single song. Music stores still offer better browsing, but as Amazon has shown, losing the capability to flip through books and CDs isn't a problem for many people. Speaking of Amazon, the iTunes Music Store will undoubtedly compete well with online CD vendors because the iTunes interface is so much better (I can't tell you how many times I've had to reinstall the utterly annoying RealPlayer over the years just to listen to music samples from Amazon), the prices are lower, the gratification is faster, and you can buy individual songs. The only advantage the online CD vendors provide is that they ship you an actual CD with jewel case, liner notes, and more.
I suppose we should consider the other commercial Internet music services (Rhapsody, PressPlay, MusicNet, and others) competition as well, but it's an apples-and-oranges comparison until the iTunes Music Store supports Windows. At that point, I think the iTunes Music Store will offer a better interface, far less Draconian copy prevention measures, and a more attractive per-song model. Even if a subscription model proves cheaper (and it's conceivable that Apple would add such a model in the future), many people are more likely to try a service if they can pay $1 each for a couple of songs rather than committing to a $10 per month subscription. It's entirely likely that the other services will adopt Apple's per-song pricing model if it proves successful; then users will choose among them based on platform compatibility, price, selection, and interface.
The real question, of course, is how the iTunes Music Store will compete with the peer-to-peer file sharing networks like Kazaa and Gnutella. I suspect Apple did a detailed competitive analysis with these services when designing the iTunes Music Store, and it shows. The user experience of these services is inconsistent and, quite frankly, horrid. You never know what a search will turn up, you never know if what you download will be of a decent quality, it can take forever to download, and the song metadata (name, artist, album, genre, year, etc.) is seldom present. So what accounts for their popularity? Price (free), exploration of new music, and generalized rebellion against the system.
The iTunes Music Store fares well in the comparison. Its overall user experience is very good, thanks to the clean iTunes interface, fast download servers, reliable quality, and well-described songs (complete with cover art). Searching the iTunes Music Store often turns up unexpected finds (my first purchase was a Nina Simone cover of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne") and as far as generalized rebellion goes, Apple has always branded itself as being outside the mainstream. So it all comes down to price ($1 or less versus free) and selection (200,000 songs versus a vast unknown). I say "or less" with regard to Apple's pricing, since most albums are priced at $10, and if the album contains more than 10 songs, buying the entire album gets you a lower per-song price.
Actually, this ignores a major difference between the iTunes Music Store and the file sharing services - the extent to which any given person feels as though downloading from the file sharing services is a legal or ethical problem. It's clear that millions of file sharing users aren't terribly concerned. But are they sufficiently concerned to switch to the iTunes Music Store and pay a buck per song? That's Apple's bet, and I think it's a good one. There will always be people for whom any price is too high; they'll continue using the file sharing networks. People who found the file sharing networks awkward to use, however, are likely to at least give the iTunes Music Store a try first, since it's faster, easier, and doesn't involve copyright infringement.
Unnatural Selection -- 200,000 songs in the iTunes Music Store sounds like a lot, but if songs that interest you aren't included, that number will shrink quickly. For an entirely unscientific comparison, I performed the same search in the iTunes Music Store, the Gnutella network (via LimeWire in Mac OS X), and the Kazaa network (via Kazaa Media Desktop in Windows XP under Virtual PC). I looked for the word "Ipanema" in song titles in an attempt to see how many covers and variants of "The Girl from Ipanema" I could find. In the iTunes Music Library, the search was almost instantaneous, returning 47 songs. Some were obviously duplicates from different albums, but there were still about 23 separate artists represented. In LimeWire, I ran the search 5 times, finding a different number between 3 and 22 hits each time. Along with the varying numbers of hits, the lousy metadata made it difficult to determine which hits might be duplicates, and there were certainly some bogus entries. In Kazaa Media Desktop, after clicking Search More several times and crashing once, I found 284 files, 79 of which were unique (many files were being served by more than one user), about 69 of which appeared to come from different artists (compared to LimeWire, Kazaa exposes more metadata, such as Artist, in the interface).
It's impossible to draw firm conclusions from this test, since the number of files available on the file sharing networks changes constantly and probably isn't even the same for different people at the same time. LimeWire reported about 525 hosts online, whereas Kazaa claimed a whopping 4.3 million users. Nonetheless, the challenge for Apple is clear - they simply must add as many songs to the iTunes Music Store as possible, so it was good to see Apple announce this week that another 3,200 songs are being added on 06-May-03. It's conceivable that this realization may have led to some of the rumors about Apple buying Universal Music, since Universal owns MP3.com, which boasts 1.7 million songs from over 265,000 artists, most unsigned by a label. Many of those artists probably want to give their songs away for free, but plenty would love to be included in the iTunes Music Store. Barring any future acquisition of MP3.com, Apple would do well to make it easy for independent labels and artists to list their music on the iTunes Music Store, swelling the number of available songs and the breadth of available music.
Future Moves -- Keep in mind that the iTunes Music Store is a 1.0 release, so there's plenty of room for improvement, such as the following features.
I'd like to see Apple expose the links to every track available in the iTunes Music Store, perhaps along with a new URL scheme that would make it trivial to click a link in a Web browser and jump to the song's listing in iTunes. Utilities would undoubtedly appear to let people build Web pages of their purchased songs for showing friends and other visitors. It appears the necessary bits may already be in place; see the link below.
Also interesting would be music recommendations via the social information filtering researched at the MIT Media Lab (the Ringo music recommendation project) and then tried (unsuccessfully) in the business world as Firefly Networks. The iTunes Music Store already has Amazon-like "Listeners who bought this also bought" links.
Along the same lines, popularity rankings and user comments would also be welcome, much like those on Amazon.
Providing full liner notes, preferably with lyrics, would undoubtedly help some people decide what to buy. However, I'm sure the contractual issues surrounding lyrics are complex.
I'm fairly unlikely to buy an unknown song based on a 30 second clip. I'd like to see Apple instead stream a low quality version of the entire track. Even better, Apple could create a number of iTunes-based streaming radio stations in different genres. If you like the current (or recent) song, you could click a Buy button to download it instantly.
I gather iTunes users with children are interested in some level of parental control over purchases. Something as simple as password-protection for opening the iTunes Music Store itself would suffice.
There's currently no way to buy music as a gift currently, but it would be nice to be able to buy a song or album for someone and have Apple automatically send them an iCard with the download link.
Realistically, modem users aren't going to be able to use the iTunes Music Store much, but perhaps a future incarnation could offer a mechanism by which Apple would send you a CD containing the AAC files for an additional cost.
Was It Good for You Too? An article in Fortune says that Apple keeps $0.35 for each song purchased, whereas the labels take the remaining $0.65. So what about those artists who are represented in the iTunes Music Store? Will they find it a major boost to their income? It's impossible to know for sure, and it will undoubtedly vary by artist depending on each artist's specific contract, but the short answer seems to be no. As has been pointed out in TidBITS Talk, as well as in "Courtney Love Does the Math" in Salon and Janis Ian's "The Internet Debacle - An Alternate View," artists often don't make much at all from a recording contract, even with a hit album.
The record industry will undoubtedly fare well in the deal, since a sale is a sale, and any new venue for selling music would seem to be a good thing. More important, if the iTunes Music Store is a success, I hope it will convince the labels that treating their customers as criminals ranks right up there in the annals of stupidity with land wars in Asia, to steal a line from The Princess Bride.
As some people have asked, does this mean Apple is selling out to the recording industry? That's a loaded question, because a public company like Apple can't go around recommending that Mac users infringe copyright. Despite the idiotic fuss, even Apple's "Rip, Mix, Burn" ad campaign said nothing about downloading copyrighted songs or distributing burned CDs in violation of personal use or fair use. So yes, Apple is playing the game necessary to create a service like the iTunes Music Store, but given the company's need to work with the record labels that own copyright on the music, I can't see how Apple could have done anything else.
Will the iTunes Music Store be good for Apple? No doubt. As has happened so often in the past, Apple is setting the bar at which all other services will be judged. At least until others rise up to compete, I think Apple will do well, both in terms of sales and reputation. The iTunes Music Store should also help the sale of iPods, and perhaps even Macs, at least until iTunes for Windows comes out.
Early indications would seem to support this opinion, given today's press release announcing that Apple sold over one million songs in the first week of operation, making Apple the self-described largest online music company in the world. Over half of the songs sold were sold as part of an album, and more than 100,000 of the 200,000 songs in the iTunes Music Store were sold at least once, making it even more painfully obvious that breadth of selection is essential. Apple also said that more than one million copies of iTunes 4 were downloaded last week, and the company also received more than 110,000 orders for new iPods, selling more than 20,000 in the U.S. last weekend.
These numbers are impressive, to say the least, and even the CEOs of two of the main record labels admitted their surprise in quotes for Apple's press release. What I find most intriguing is that Apple was able to rack up these sales figures with only Mac users, and only Mac OS X users at that. Once again, Apple has shown that focusing on innovation and user experience can change the world, despite having only a small percentage of the market. It will be interesting to see how the store fares now that the big splashy launch has happened, since it's unlikely that the store will consistently sell a million songs over a week's time. And, of course, we'll see what happens when iTunes for Windows comes out.
If the iTunes Music Store works out, I could see Apple breaking further from the mold of being a computer company. First the iPod, now the iTunes Music Store, and what next? Given Steve Jobs's links to the movie industry via Pixar and Apple's showcase of QuickTime trailers for movies, perhaps the iMovie Video Store is waiting in the wings. After the hypothetical video iPod or tablet Mac ships, of course.
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Article 3 of 14 in series
The iTunes Music Store has already caused me to buy more music, and spending all the extra time in iTunes has helped me develop a number of tips for improving the listening and purchasing experienceShow full article
The iTunes Music Store has already caused me to buy more music, and spending all the extra time in iTunes has helped me develop a number of tips for improving the listening and purchasing experience. For more information on the iTunes Music Store, see "iTunes Music Store Takes the Stage" and "Apple Changes the Face of Digital Music" in the last two issues of TidBITS.
Not So Obvious Navigation -- Although iTunes doesn't hide its navigation shortcuts while you're in the Music Store, you may not have noticed them. Next to each artist name and album name in the search results is an arrow in a circle; click it to see all albums by that artist or on that album. Plus, many of the pieces of text - album, song, and artist names - throughout the iTunes Music Store are actually links, as in a Web browser, though they're underlined only when you move your mouse cursor over them. And of course, just like in a Web browser, you can navigate using the back and forward arrows, with the home button, and by clicking the intermediate steps in the "breadcrumb" trail made for genre, artist, and album.
Avoid Duplicate Purchases -- If you're like me, you might not remember every song you already own while searching the iTunes Music Store. You can't open either the Music Store playlist or your main Library playlist in a separate window to compare the two, but there's a workaround thanks to iTunes's Smart Playlists. Choose New Smart Playlist from the File menu, choose Time from the first pop-up menu, choose "is greater than" from the second pop-up menu, leave "0:00" in the text field, and make sure "Live updating" is checked. That tells iTunes to add every song whose time is longer than zero seconds to the playlist and to keep it up to date with new music that's added. Then, when you want to compare what you already own against a search in the iTunes Music Store, double-click your new Smart Playlist to open it in a separate window and move it so you can switch back and forth between it and the iTunes Music Store in the main iTunes window easily. One final hint: If you name your "All Music" playlist with an Option-Space character at the start, it sorts above all other Smart Playlists.
Playing Multiple Previews -- The 30-second preview clips that you can play in the iTunes Music Store are essential for verifying that you do indeed remember the song's title properly, but they aren't great for deciding whether or not you like a song that you haven't heard before. In part, this is because they're so annoying to play - you must double-click each one (or click once and press the spacebar), and iTunes won't let you turn on Repeat All while in the Music Store. Luckily, iTunes's shortcuts for navigating among songs work while the song is playing, so just press the right arrow key to play the next preview or the left arrow to play the previous song.
Alternatively, try this sample AppleScript script from Sal Soghoian, which plays all the clips showing in order. Unfortunately, the script has to use Apple's GUI Scripting software because the iTunes Music Store apparently can't be scripted in iTunes, and even then it's clumsy. You must run the script manually, stopping in the middle of playing requires cancelling the script manually, and it won't work properly when placed in the ~/Library/iTunes/Scripts folder and chosen from the scripts menu on iTunes's menu bar. Feel free to improve it.
Use the Cart -- As much as I like the ease of Apple's 1-Click shopping, it makes me a little nervous, since many artists have multiple versions of the same song, and I want to make sure I'm getting the right one before I buy. Plus, I like being able to mark a bunch of songs that I might want to buy and then purchase them all at once. In the Store tab of the iTunes Preferences dialog, you can switch from buying via 1-Click to buying via a shopping cart, which gives you time to reflect before buying. All the Buy Now buttons then change to Add Now, and clicking one adds its associated item to your shopping cart, which you can view by clicking the Shopping Cart playlist. When you're ready to buy, click the Buy Now button for the entire shopping cart in the lower right corner of the iTunes window.
Dealing with a Modem -- What if you have only a slow modem connection to the Internet? The iTunes Music Store will work for you, albeit slowly, since each song you buy will be approximately 3 MB to 5 MB, and that amount of data can take a long time to download. Even the 30 second previews are slow, though you can make listening to them easier by checking "Load complete preview before playing" in the Store tab of the iTunes Preferences dialog. Using the shopping cart approach to buying will also help, since you can queue up a number of songs to download before you go to bed. If you have a laptop with an AirPort card in it, though, the best approach may be to add songs to your shopping cart and then, when you're in a location with a wireless network and a fast Internet connection (an Apple Store, for instance), switch to the Shopping Cart playlist and click Buy Now to download everything you have ready. If you aren't a laptop user, but you can use a Mac with a fast Internet connection somewhere else, remember that you can always click the Account button in the upper right of the iTunes window and sign in with your Apple ID, purchase music, copy the files to a CD or DVD, and then load them into your Mac at home.
Or Don't Use the Cart -- As much as I find the shopping cart a welcome option, it hasn't worked for me. Others have also had trouble with it complaining about incomplete or incorrect billing information, even when there's obviously nothing wrong. The workaround is to switch back to 1-Click purchasing, which doesn't seem to share the same problems.
Can't Download Music -- If you've tried to purchase and download music unsuccessfully, it's worth running Repair Permissions in the First Aid tab of Disk Utility. After that, make sure that the user you're logged in as has write permissions on the Music folder, or, more specifically, the Music Folder that iTunes uses to store new music (check the Advanced tab in the iTunes Preferences dialog). You might even try changing that Music Folder to another folder into which you're sure you can add files. If that doesn't work, remember that you can contact iTunes Music Store Customer Service by choosing Music Store Customer Service from iTunes's Help menu and following the appropriate link.
Quick Pause/Play -- For me, one of the main problems with listening to music - either from the iTunes Music Store or my collection - while I'm working is scrambling to shut it off when the phone rings or I need quiet for some other reason. I've used a variety of techniques over the years, including Griffin's PowerMate and a simple AppleScript script via QuicKeys, but the best approach may be Michael Kamprath's Keyboard Maestro macro utility, which includes a special iTunes Control action that lets you control iTunes in a variety of ways from the keyboard even when iTunes isn't the frontmost application. I simply assign Control-Escape to the Toggle Play/Pause action, and from then on it's a quick slap with my left hand on those two keys to start or stop the music. Anyone can use this in Mac OS X, since the free Keyboard Maestro Lite, though limited, is more than sufficient for this task.
For those who want to try the AppleScript approach and access the script via another utility, the script is extremely simple.
tell application "iTunes" if player state is not playing then play else pause end if end tell
Make Backups -- As I noted in last week's article, most of Apple's digital rights management obstacles are essentially speed bumps - they don't stop you from doing anything you want, but they will slow you down. The one time you could run into trouble is if you were to lose any of the three Macs you had authorized to play your purchased music; even if you had offsite backups of the original AAC files. The solution is either to restrict your number of authorized computers to two at most, so you can always reauthorize another one, or to convert your purchased music either to MP3 or to unprotected AAC so you can play them on any computer or appropriate audio device. To do this, just burn an audio CD (giving you a physical backup as well) and import the contents of that CD into iTunes again, or use one of the tools like Audio Hijack that can grab the digital sound stream before it's converted to analog and sent out to the speakers. I wouldn't be surprised to see a tool appear that would batch convert these songs for backup purposes - it could probably even be done with an AppleScript script.
More Tips? I'm sure there are additional tips for the best ways of working with the iTunes Music Store. If you run across any, send them along to TidBITS Talk at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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Article 4 of 14 in series
Only a few weeks after releasing iTunes 4 in conjunction with the iTunes Music Store, Apple has released iTunes 4.0.1 via Software Update, rolling in a few bug fixes and steamrolling Internet sharing of music by restricting sharing to a single subnet on a local network. One of the innovative features in iTunes 4 was the capability to share music with anyone on the Internet; you chose Connect to Shared Music, entered their IP address, and watched their shared playlists appear in your playlist paneShow full article
Only a few weeks after releasing iTunes 4 in conjunction with the iTunes Music Store, Apple has released iTunes 4.0.1 via Software Update, rolling in a few bug fixes and steamrolling Internet sharing of music by restricting sharing to a single subnet on a local network.
One of the innovative features in iTunes 4 was the capability to share music with anyone on the Internet; you chose Connect to Shared Music, entered their IP address, and watched their shared playlists appear in your playlist pane. Sharing in iTunes 4 was quite restricted: only five people could connect at once and the only thing they could do was play music. iTunes didn't make it easy to reconnect to shared playlists, and people sharing the music couldn't make playlists from shared songs or copy them locally... at least within iTunes.
Therein lies the rub - Web sites quickly appeared to let people publish the fact that they were sharing music, and utilities popped up to copy shared songs. Some of the sites shut down quickly after the copying utilities appeared and others obscured the IP addresses of the sharing sites, but neither that nor the five-user restriction was enough. The copying utilities were too concerning for Apple, particularly given the music industry relationships necessary to make the iTunes Music Store happen, so the Internet sharing feature had to go. (It's easy to imagine a record label executive calling Steve Jobs and telling him that unless copying via iTunes was stopped, the necessary contracts for the iTunes Music Store wouldn't be renewed when they expire in a year.)
What's most unfortunate about this move is that plenty of legitimate uses were also eliminated, such as sharing your own music between work and home or sharing between different subnets on your local network. I'd like to see Apple refine these restrictions so, for instance, you could share music with any computer you've authorized to play songs you've purchased on the iTunes Music Store, no matter where it's located. In the meantime, those who want to share music in legitimate situations that are no longer possible can revert to previous methods, such as using standard file sharing to publish the contents of the iTunes Music folder. Of course, there's no reason you must upgrade to iTunes 4.0.1 right now, although I wouldn't be surprised to see the next version of Mac OS X require an upgrade.
Article 5 of 14 in series
iTunes Music Store Sells Ten Millionth Song -- Apple announced today that after about four months the iTunes Music Store has sold its ten millionth song (in an ironic comment on the state of online music, the song was Avril Lavigne's "Complicated")Show full article
iTunes Music Store Sells Ten Millionth Song -- Apple announced today that after about four months the iTunes Music Store has sold its ten millionth song (in an ironic comment on the state of online music, the song was Avril Lavigne's "Complicated"). It's an impressive number, and although there's no telling what Apple's costs in running the store are, it probably contributed at least $3 million to Apple's bottom line in a quarter of the year. The sales rate seems to have stabilized, as you can see if you look at Apple's published numbers. It took 7 days for Apple to reach 1 million songs sold, 16 days to reach 2 million songs sold, 56 days to make it to 5 million songs, and 133 days to hit 10 million. It's not surprising that Apple wouldn't be able to maintain the initial burst of enthusiasm past the first two weeks, but if you eliminate them from consideration, you can see that days 17 through 56 averaged about 75,000 songs per day sold, and days 57 through 133 saw an average of about 65,000 songs per day sold.
That's not too shabby, considering that the iTunes Music Store is basically limited to Macintosh users who are running Mac OS X, have broadband Internet connections, and an interest in purchasing music online. If market share numbers were to be believed, that's at most 5 percent of the overall market that becomes available when Apple opens the iTunes Music Store to Windows users (expected before the end of the year). Personally, I doubt Apple's current song sales would make up just 5 percent of the combined sales to both Mac and Windows users, but that's because I think market share numbers are about as meaningful as statistics cited in political debates. [ACE]
Article 6 of 14 in series
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 iPodsShow full article
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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Article 7 of 14 in series
iTunes Music Store Tops 50 Million Songs Sold -- Apple announced today that the iTunes Music Store had hit its 50 millionth song sale, and was averaging 2.5 million songs sold per week, about half in the form of albumsShow full article
iTunes Music Store Tops 50 Million Songs Sold -- Apple announced today that the iTunes Music Store had hit its 50 millionth song sale, and was averaging 2.5 million songs sold per week, about half in the form of albums. In an interview this morning, Apple vice president Rob Schoeben said, "The milestones that we're hitting are not just the passage of time," but the store has been ratcheting up with major events, such as adding the Windows iTunes software, Christmas sales, the iPod mini launch, and the Pepsi promotion.
Schoeben noted that the band Green Day released an exclusive single on iTunes, which shot to the number one position on the store within a day and stayed in the top three for three weeks. (Pepsi's use of the song in a commercial for the iTunes promotion, which ran during the Super Bowl, no doubt helped spread the word.) Radio stations picked up the song without any other form of the single's release. [GF]
Article 8 of 14 in series
Apple last week celebrated the first anniversary of the iTunes Music Store with the release of iTunes 4.5 and a slew of new features in the iTunes Music Store itselfShow full article
Apple last week celebrated the first anniversary of the iTunes Music Store with the release of iTunes 4.5 and a slew of new features in the iTunes Music Store itself. Although the update doesn't warrant a full version number jump, it's not at all insignificant.
New iTunes Features -- Whether or not you buy music from the iTunes Music Store, iTunes 4.5 offers a number of useful new features. A new dedicated Party Shuffle playlist selects a random list of songs to play from one of your playlists (or your entire Library), but unlike simply shuffling through a normal playlist, you can see what just played, see what's coming up, change the order of songs on the fly, or add new songs. It's essentially a temporary, malleable playlist that you can modify without fear of messing something up. If you perform a fair amount of ordering and deleting songs, you can save your efforts by dragging the contents of Party Shuffle to the playlist pane to create a normal playlist with those selections.
Also highly welcome is the new capability of smart playlists to exclude the contents of other playlists. That means you could, for instance, have a smart playlist that includes all your music except for the songs in a Christmas Music playlist that might sound rather jarring in July.
iTunes has enabled users of networked Macs on the same subnet to share music for some time, and although the short-lived Internet sharing feature hasn't reappeared, multiple users of the same Mac can now share music in exactly the same way. The sharing settings look exactly the same as in earlier versions; however, as long as the user whose music is being shared is logged in, all other users who log in via Fast User Switching can play the shared music.
Amusingly, if a user called Fred is playing music in iTunes and then another user, Guido, logs in via Fast User Switching, Fred's music continues to play and Guido can't stop or control it in any way. And if Guido starts playing music in iTunes as well, the two songs play simultaneously. It's not exactly a bug, since Apple is aware of the behavior, but in my mind, Fred's music should continue to play only until Guido starts playing music in iTunes as well. In many cases, multiple accounts are used for testing or troubleshooting, and not having to restart iTunes on every user switch is welcome. But in other cases, it's truly annoying for one user to have to listen to the other's music.
For those who burn CDs, iTunes can now print song lists using a variety of templates, along with jewel case inserts that include album artwork, if available. And if you're printing a jewel case insert for a CD that contains songs from multiple albums, iTunes arranges the artwork from multiple albums in a mosaic pattern.
Lastly, to ensure the highest possible sound quality, you can rip original audio CDs using a new Apple Lossless Encoder. Its lossless compression method reduces file size by approximately 2:1 (as opposed to 10:1 or more for MP3 or AAC) without compromising quality at all. Audiophiles will undoubtedly appreciate the option to store original quality music in half the space. (Audiophiles will note that the Apple Lossless Encoder is an Apple home-brewed solution, and not based on other lossless encoding schemes such as FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Encoder).) Music encoded with the Apple Lossless Encoder is compatible with only dock-connector iPods and the iPod mini, and only then after applying the just-released iPod Update 2004-04-28.
iTunes Music Store Numbers -- Included in last week's announcement was news from Apple on how the iTunes Music Store fared in its first year. Apple has sold more than 70 million songs so far, and the current run rate is 2.7 million songs per week, which points toward Apple doubling its per-year sales in the second year to 140 million songs. Apple also says that the iTunes Music Store now contains over 700,000 songs from the five major record labels and over 450 independent labels.
Those numbers are impressive, and although the general consensus is that Apple doesn't make much, if any, money on the iTunes Music Store, the overall strategy would seem to have helped iPod sales, which exceeded 800,000 in Apple's last fiscal quarter.
Less heartening was the news from CNET's News.com about the promotion from Apple and Pepsi to give away 100 million free songs with specially marked bottles of soda. Odds of winning were supposed to be 1 in 3, although apparently tilting the bottles at a specific angle could reveal whether or not any given bottle contained a song code. Unfortunately, it appears that Apple gave away only 5 million of the 100 million free songs. Late delivery and spotty distribution of some of the special bottles may have reduced the numbers somewhat, but it's still disappointing (and a bit surprising) that only 5 percent of the free songs were redeemed.
For another chance at free music, U.S. readers who go to Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Web site and agree to vote in the upcoming presidential election can receive a code to download a free song. The first 50,000 people will get the music, but anyone who fills out the form before 31-Oct-04 can win a free iPod, a 20" iMac, and a trip to the company in Vermont to spend the day as an "honorary Flavor Guru." If I win, I plan to suggest "Blueberry iMac," which would be blueberry and vanilla ice cream with macadamia nuts. Mmm...
If that's still not enough free music for you, Apple is now giving away a free song each week. It's a way for Apple to increase traffic to the store, and also for listeners to sample artists that they might otherwise ignore. Although no other details are available, it wouldn't surprise me if Apple is able to charge the record labels a fee for this type of preferred placement on the store, since it's great publicity for a band. (Apple also gave away a free song each day for eight days following the unveiling of iTunes 4.5.)
New iTunes Music Store Features -- A number of the new features in iTunes 4.5 enhance usage of the iTunes Music Store. QuickLinks (the little encircled arrows next to artist and album names in iTunes Music Store listings) now appear next to track, artist, and album names for all your music in iTunes; clicking one takes you right to the song, artist, or album listing in the iTunes Music Store; Option-clicking displays the song in your library along with the other songs from its album. Although the addition of all the QuickLinks muddies the display somewhat, it's nice to be able to look for music from artists whose work you already own without performing a search.
You can also now drag the 30-second previews from an iTunes Music Store listing to a playlist; all that's saved is a link to the preview, but it's a good way to create wishlists. In the past, I used the shopping cart instead of 1-Click purchasing to collect songs I wanted to run by Tonya before buying. One slight advantage to that approach is that it's not tied to a particular computer, so I could add songs to the shopping cart from my desktop Mac or my PowerBook. Unfortunately, even when you have a playlist wishlist, iTunes won't move from one song to another, something I've found truly annoying, since I usually want to listen to all the previews for an album before I'll buy anything, and double-clicking each one separately is a pain. AppleScript to the rescue! Download the iTunes Music Store Player, one of many scripts for iTunes written by Doug Adams, to play all song previews currently showing.
Many people will enjoy the iTunes Music Store's new listing of what's playing on over 1,000 radio stations around the U.S. because it simplifies identifying and buying the song you just heard on the radio. Unfortunately, it's hard to tell how Apple's lists correspond to when specific songs are played on the radio. For those who have noticed that "over 1,000" radio stations sounds suspiciously similar to the "approximately 1,200" radio stations owned by Clear Channel Communications (an international radio/television/event behemoth), I have confirmed that the two lists are independent; Apple's list contains both stations that are and are not owned by Clear Channel. Unfortunately, none of the Ithaca radio stations, particularly WVBR (independent, but run by Cornell students) and WICB (Ithaca College's student station), are listed. Perhaps Apple will enable such stations to join the list given that college students are smack dab in the middle of the target market for the iTunes Music Store.
Unchanged in iTunes 4.5 is handling of streaming radio stations; one nice addition would be to parse the current song and artist and provide links to the iTunes Music Store.
For those who think Apple might at some point move into video with the iTunes Music Store, notice that it now includes top-level links to more music videos (which are great, since they include entire songs rather than the truncated 30-second previews) as well as movie trailers that you can view within iTunes. Both are sales tools, of course, and you can easily purchase the song related to a video or the soundtrack to a movie whose trailer you've just seen.
iMix, You Mix, Meow Mix -- Perhaps the most interesting new feature of the iTunes Music Store, however, is iMix, the capability for iTunes users to publish their playlists (up to 250 items) to the iTunes Music Store and inform friends about them. The iMix playlists are linked to the included artists, and the publishing users can add descriptions (theoretically only 1,024 characters, although in my testing, iTunes wouldn't even take that many). Other users can play the 30-second clips for the songs in the playlist, rate iMix playlists, and buy the songs.
It's a fascinating way of sharing musical tastes. I've found that I appreciate the Listeners Also Bought links within the iTunes Music Store, and the iMix playlists extend that linking of related music, enabling users to say explicitly, "I like all this music, and if you like some of it, perhaps you'll like other tracks I include as well." I'm less sure of how well the ratings will work, since it's not clear to me whether other users will rate the playlist as an interesting collection of music (as I think should happen), rather than rating the playlist on the perceived merits of the songs it contains. The latter makes relatively little sense to me, since it would imply that a playlist containing a single hit song could have a high rating because everyone likes the song, despite the fact that it's an utterly pointless playlist.
You can take a look a couple of playlists I've generated, in fact; one contains some of my favorite songs, and a larger one includes songs whose lyrics particularly speak to me. Take a listen, give them a rating, and please send me your iMix playlists as well. I imagine it will take me some time to work through the deluge of playlists, but hey, it's a great way for me to find out a bit more about all of you - you all know way more about me than I do about you.
When you publish a playlist, you may be, as I was, somewhat disappointed in the number of tracks that don't exist in the iTunes Music Store. My favorites playlist contains 71 songs but the iTunes Music Store contained only 35 of them. And my Ultimate Lyrics playlist has 128 tracks, of which only 80 appear in the iTunes Music Store. Apple could do a better job of matching; for instance, "Superman's Song" from the Crash Test Dummies is in the iTunes Music Store, but since I have it from their album "The Ghosts That Haunt Me" and the iTunes Music Store has it on the compilation "Upfront! Canadians Live from Mountain Stage," it didn't make it into my published iMix playlist.
More to the point, however, I'd like to see Apple consider the songs that iMix playlists contain, but which aren't yet in the iTunes Music Store, as requests. There's no telling if this is feasible, but if lots of iMix playlists contain a particular song, album, or artist, I'd hope that Apple would notice and increase efforts to add the appropriate items to the iTunes Music Store.
A less noticeable new way to share your musical tastes is a new Tell a Friend link that appears with every album that you view in the store. Clicking the link takes you to a form where you can enter friends' email addresses and an optional note; the email they receive includes a link to the album plus a thumbnail of the album's artwork.
Sturm and DRM -- Along with these modifications to the iTunes Music Store, Apple made two changes to the digital rights management (DRM) aspects of purchased music.
On the plus side, Apple increased the number of Macs you can authorize to play purchased music from three to five. This is a welcome change - Tonya and I have been occasionally irritated by the limitation, since we each have a desktop and a laptop Mac, and an old iBook plays music from iTunes through our stereo as well.
On the minus side, Apple reduced the number of times you can burn the same playlist to CD from ten times to seven; this may annoy people who regularly burn CDs of music for friends, although my impression is that it's fairly trivial to change the playlist to work around the limitation if it's a problem. That's fine, since the goal of the limitation is to prove to the music industry that iTunes can't be used to mass-produce music CDs easily.
Doing Windows -- iTunes 4.5 is also available for Windows, where it has essentially the same feature set as the Mac version, with the addition of the capability to convert unprotected WMA files to AAC, letting iTunes take over for all music a Windows user might have, short of purchased songs from other online music services.
Download Details -- iTunes 4.5 is a 10 MB download available directly or via Software Update; it requires Mac OS X 10.1.5 or later, with current versions of Mac OS X and QuickTime 6.5.1 (also available via Software Update or directly) recommended for best results.
Article 9 of 14 in series
Apple staged its own British invasion in London last week, announcing the opening of the iTunes Music Store in the United Kingdom, France, and GermanyShow full article
Apple staged its own British invasion in London last week, announcing the opening of the iTunes Music Store in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. A pan-European iTunes store is expected to open in October to cover countries not involved in this week's launch, according to Apple.
The new online storefronts are accessible via the newly released iTunes 4.6 (which also adds support for July's release of Airport Express hardware and AirTunes software). A pop-up menu at the bottom of the iTunes Music Store home page takes you to the territory-specific store. Prices in the U.K. for individual songs are 0.79 pounds ($1.45 in U.S. funds) and 7.99 pounds ($14.68) for most new albums (which compares to between 9 and 10 pounds at Amazon.co.uk), while Germany and France offer 0.99 euros (a more economical $1.20) for songs and start at 9.99 euros ($12.10) for albums (compared to 12.99 euros in Germany and over 16 euros in France at Amazon.de and Amazon.fr, respectively).
As someone who buys an inordinate amount of music from Amazon.co.uk, I was frothing at the mouth to buy and download the latest B-sides from Ash at the U.K. iTunes Music Store. That dream died rather quickly with an error message, telling me my U.S. account was not valid for the U.K. store. Due to song licensing agreements, you can purchase music only from the country-specific iTunes Music Store where you have a credit card associated with a billing address. To create a new account, choose your territory's store via the country pop-up menu, then click the Account button. A Sign In dialog opens, from which you can create a new account or associate an account with an existing .Mac ID.
Apple claims 700,000 songs at launch for the three territories, but those come from the five major music labels. You will find lots of artists supported by global music label backing, such as Beastie Boys, Anastacia, and The Corrs. But there is a dearth of selection from independent labels - which are more pronounced in the U.K. where indies have a broader reach into the top of the pops than in the United States. Glancing at BBC's Top 40, the U.K. iTunes Music Store is missing quite a number of big albums, including Supergrass and Keane (the biggest album of the year in Britain, though the Music Store does provide two extended singles and an AOL live exclusive).
Some U.K. users have also complained about their version of the iTunes Music Store missing a significant number of artists that are available in the U.S. version, undoubtedly due to arcane licensing issues.
[Agen Schmitz is a freelance writer and editor, former Senior Editor in the Amazon.com Electronics Store, and all-around Britophile.]
Article 10 of 14 in series
by Geoff Duncan
Last week a public shouting match erupted between Apple Computer and RealNetworks over what material can be played using Apple's iPod portable music playersShow full article
Last week a public shouting match erupted between Apple Computer and RealNetworks over what material can be played using Apple's iPod portable music players. RealNetworks develops the RealPlayer digital media player software, which competes with both QuickTime and Microsoft's Windows Media technologies. RealNetworks also operates the RealPlayer Music Store (a competitor to Apple's iTunes Music Store) and the Rhapsody subscription music service.
Duelling Divas -- The current brouhaha has some history. On 09-Apr-04, RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser proposed a "tactical alliance" between RealNetworks and Apple, in which Apple would license the FairPlay digital rights management (DRM) technology used by the iTunes Music Store to RealNetworks. This would allow content purchased from Rhapsody and the RealPlayer Music Store to play on the iPod, which - then as now - commands the lion's share of the market for portable digital music players. In return, RealNetworks would make the iPod its "primary device" for its music services and player software. Glaser also waved a stick, hinting RealNetworks might convert over to Microsoft's Windows Media or approach other hardware vendors if a deal couldn't be reached with Apple.
Apple quickly declined RealNetworks' proposal. Apple already had the most popular portable player and the most popular online music service, and apparently felt staying on its current track was more beneficial than diverting effort into striking deals with smaller partners. Apple may also have felt RealNetworks' adoption of Windows Media was unlikely, given the rancorous legal history between RealNetworks and Microsoft.
Shouting Match -- On 26-Jul-04, the public silence between RealNetworks and Apple was broken when RealNetworks announced a new technology initiative dubbed Harmony. Among other things, Harmony purports to make material protected using non-Apple DRM technologies playable on the iPod. Harmony could be an important market advantage for RealNetworks. Currently, iPods can play back either unprotected files (e.g., ordinary MP3s) or content protected using Apple's FairPlay DRM system (like songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store). RealPlayer Music Store and the Rhapsody music service would have a competitive edge if they could claim their material works with Apple's iPod as well as a multitude of other devices from Sony, Rio, PalmOne, Gateway, Dell, and others. RealNetworks' DRM-enabled content would work on more than 70 portable devices, whereas protected material from iTunes Music Store would work on just one. RealNetworks' reasoning for Harmony is appealing: when people buy music online, they should be able to listen to that music on the portable player of their choice without worrying about file formats or copy protection. It should just work.
I'm not fully versed in the technical details of Harmony, but it's apparent RealNetworks did not create Harmony in conjunction with Apple. Instead, RealNetworks proceeded on its own, taking authorized material protected using non-Apple DRM schemes and wrapping it with Apple's FairPlay DRM for use on the iPod. Thus, when the iPod sees content a user purchased from RealNetworks, it plays transparently. This method works for material available via Rhapsody and RealPlayer Music Store because those services use the same AAC audio format as content from the iTunes Music Store (albeit at a higher bitrate: 192 Kbps rather than 128 Kbps). iPods have built-in support for AAC; Harmony does not alter the iPod software or give it the capability to handle new media formats.
Apple fired back sharply at RealNetworks on 28-Jul-04, saying it was "stunned that RealNetworks has adopted the tactics and ethics of a hacker" to enable its content on Apple's iPod, and warning that Harmony was unlikely to work with current and future iPods once Apple released new iPod software. In other words, Apple was angry, and would attempt to hamstring Harmony on the iPod as soon as possible. Apple also indicated it was investigating legal action, including possible violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). RealNetworks responded 29-Jul-04, re-affirming its commitment to Harmony and asserting the technology was both fully legal and developed independently.
<http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story& amp;cid=528&ncid=528&e=12&u= /ap/20040729/ap_on_hi_te/apple_ realnetworks>
Loud and Off-Key -- This dispute between Apple and RealNetworks touches on many nerves in the worlds of online music and digital rights management. Some people resent that Apple's iPod currently supports only a closed, proprietary DRM system, and many people would welcome the idea of playing music purchased from any source they like on the iPod, regardless of whether it comes from the iTunes Music Store or another service. Support for additional DRM systems might make the iPod even more popular, and - given the iPod's high margins - that would mean even more money for Apple. After all, Apple isn't yet earning much (if any) money from selling music via the iTunes Music Store: why would Apple care if people bought songs from another service, so long as they're played back on a profitable iPod?
On the other hand, part of the reason for the iPod's success is its tight integration with iTunes and the iTunes Music Store. By controlling the user's online music experience from browsing and purchase to synchronization and playback, Apple has created a best-of-breed solution. Supporting other DRM systems on the iPod - or licensing FairPlay to other online music services - means Apple would surrender both iTunes and the iTunes Music Store, two key components in Apple's digital music strategy. If another online music service (like Rhapsody) or another jukebox application (like RealPlayer) didn't support the iPod very well, that would diminish the market's perception of the iPod.
However, if Apple remains set against Harmony, it's not yet clear whether Apple has any practical recourse but to try pulling the rug out from under it via software updates, since Apple's claim that RealNetworks potentially violated the DMCA seems tenuous. First, RealNetworks has been in enough tooth-and-nail fights with Microsoft over the years to be able to afford quality legal advice - it's a safe bet a reasonable amount of homework was done before RealNetworks made a public statement. Second, RealNetworks' Harmony does not appear to be violating copyright of protected content, since it is not disabling DRM - protected content is still protected once it's transferred to the iPod. Third, Apple may have difficulty claiming its own copyrights were violated, since Harmony does not alter iTunes or the iPod's built-in software, and the DMCA contains specific exemptions for reverse engineering solutions for the purpose of interoperability.
No Fat Ladies Singing Yet -- Harmony may simply represent an escalation in RealNetworks' efforts to get its content onto the iPod and expand the utility of its Windows-only Rhapsody music service. The dispute also highlights the fact that Apple's current market-leading position in digital music distribution means the company will be forced to protect its business from competitors and dilution; in doing so, will undoubtedly take on tones and behaviors long-time Apple aficionados will find jarring. In fact, those tones and behaviors might be more reminiscent of a company which has long-dominated the operating system market: Microsoft.
Article 11 of 14 in series
Apple's announcement last week of the iTunes Affiliate Program, iTunes on Campus, and the iTunes Volume Discount program represents the next escalation in what is turning into a heated battle for control of the Internet music services (which is somewhat surprising, given that no one is yet making money on music sales, something that may never happen)Show full article
Apple's announcement last week of the iTunes Affiliate Program, iTunes on Campus, and the iTunes Volume Discount program represents the next escalation in what is turning into a heated battle for control of the Internet music services (which is somewhat surprising, given that no one is yet making money on music sales, something that may never happen). With these programs, Apple is raising the bar yet again for knock-off services from companies like Roxio and RealNetworks, not to mention Microsoft's just-announced MSN Music.
The Competition -- If you haven't been paying close attention, you might not have realized that Roxio, maker of the highly regarded Toast 6 Titanium and Jam 6, is selling its consumer software division to Sonic Solutions, a company that specializes in DVD mastering software for Windows. This sale provides Roxio with $80 million to spend promoting Napster, though I'm placing my bets on Napster being crushed by Apple's iTunes Music Store (which currently has 69 percent of the market and the market-leading iPod player) and Microsoft's MSN Music (from Microsoft, so it will be seen by millions of Windows users, whether or not it's any good).
RealNetworks, of course, has just finished about a month of selling songs from its Internet music store for $0.49 each. Analysts suggested the sale might cost Real over $2 million, leading to the question of whether the company would attract enough new customers to make it worthwhile. The sale, plus Real's Harmony technology for playing songs from its own online music services on the iPod, and Real's hypocritical "Freedom of Choice" PR campaign all feel like last-ditch efforts to make the company relevant in the Internet music marketplace. Some have suggested that Real is trying to be acquired; since the company is losing money and its stock is near an all-time low, it's possible that Real is fighting for overall survival.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has unveiled a test version of MSN Music, its entry into the increasingly crowded Internet music sales market. Songs will sell for $0.99 each, and Microsoft claims a catalog of 500,000 tracks, with another 500,000 to be added in the first few weeks of operation. Like Apple, Microsoft isn't expected to make money from selling music. However, Microsoft may benefit from increased use and licensing of the Windows Media music format, licensing of the reference designs for music players made by other manufacturers, and more advertising sales on MSN. Overall, MSN Music feels like a me-too service that gets Microsoft into the game and on which the company can afford to lose massive amounts of money for years (like MSN itself, and the Xbox). MSN Music shouldn't be discounted, though, given Microsoft's financial resources, marketing muscle, and tendency to get things right on the third release. Like Real, Microsoft is playing the freedom of choice card against the iPod, which is equally laughable, since MSN Music, not surprisingly, works only in Windows.
If you're confused, "freedom of choice" to RealNetworks means the freedom for Windows users to choose to buy music from Real and play it on a variety of digital music devices, including (for now) on an iPod. To Microsoft, "freedom of choice" means the freedom for Windows users to buy music and play it on devices other than the iPod. Notice that neither company even allows Macintosh users to use their service; they're both simply trying to lock users into different proprietary systems, with different restrictions.
iTunes Affiliate Program -- The most interesting aspect of Apple's iTunes Music Store announcements is the iTunes Affiliate Program, run via LinkShare (an eight-year-old company that manages affiliate programs for others), which lets anyone who links to songs in the iTunes Music Store collect 5 percent of the purchase price. Of course, at $0.99 per song, 5 percent ends up being a nickel per sale, so you'd have to drive a lot of sales for the numbers to add up to much. I think, though the legalese is a bit thick in Apple's Terms and Conditions, that you also earn the affiliate cut on songs purchased in the same shopping session, where a session can last up to 24 hours.
Unfortunately, the iTunes Affiliate Program applies only to the U.S. version of the iTunes Music Store, so there isn't much point in applying unless most of your audience is from the U.S. Hopefully Apple will make it, along with the iTunes Music Store in general, available in more countries (Canada, anyone?) soon.
One intriguing teaser: apparently iTunes affiliates can also apply to the Apple Store Affiliate Program, about which I can find no additional information on Apple's Web site. However, Apple Europe two months ago started an affiliate program paying 2.5 percent (3 percent if you hit a certain sales volume), so perhaps that will be used as the model for this otherwise unexplained Apple Store Affiliate Program.
iTunes Volume Discount Program -- Apple's new iTunes Volume Discount Program allows companies and educational institutions to purchase large numbers of songs at discounted prices - up to 20 percent off, depending on the number purchased - in the form of codes that can be then given to users to redeem. By large numbers, we're talking about a minimum of 10,000 songs for educational institutions and 25,000 for companies. And by extrapolation, even at the full 20 percent discount (which probably doesn't apply at these minimum levels), that would mean at least $8,000 for a college or university, and at least $20,000 for a company. Although companies can bundle the codes with products, they can't be resold on their own. Amusingly, Apple has a FAQ entry which notes purchasers cannot limit the songs that their codes may be used to purchase.
iTunes on Campus -- On the face of things, the iTunes on Campus Program isn't particularly impressive, since its only unique feature is a site license that allows an educational institution to provide the iTunes application (and QuickTime) to students for free. Since iTunes and QuickTime are already free to everyone, this mostly translates into some small bandwidth savings from being able to host iTunes downloads locally and to distribute the program on CD.
In fact, the iTunes on Campus Program really just brings together the iTunes Volume Discount Program and iTunes Affiliate Program in a way that colleges and universities can use to provide a limited amount of legally downloadable music to students on both Mac and Windows, something that's not possible with any of the other (Windows-only) Internet music services. Realistically, since educational institutions aren't generally in the business of giving music to students, the main utility of the iTunes on Campus Program is thus to help protect students (and potentially the school itself) against the slavering lawyers of the RIAA.
A college could, for instance, distribute 10,000 songs via the iTunes Volume Discount Program for students, and then collect 5 percent on all subsequent purchases via the iTunes Affiliate Program to help offset the cost of purchasing that initial block of 10,000 songs. And since a college likely controls all outbound traffic, it would be possible to rewrite all links to the iTunes Music Store to make sure they were affiliate links; I can't see any language in the Terms and Conditions that explicitly forbids this.
In essence, the iTunes Music Store is CDs done right, whereas services like Napster (which is being used on a number of college campuses) are radio done right. Neither approach is necessarily better; some people prefer to own their music, at least within the limits Apple sets, whereas others will prefer to play (but not burn or copy) unlimited numbers of songs for no extra charge, as is possible with Napster. Since you "own" your iTunes Music Store purchases, you can burn them to CD, copy them to an iPod, and keep listening to them after graduation. In contrast, students using a Napster subscription at a participating university must pay extra to burn tracks to CD, use them on a portable music player, or listen to them after graduation.
Summer break is also potentially an issue. The ability to download new music ends with the semester, of course, but songs you've already downloaded can remain available as "tethered downloads" that expire some time later (three months for Cornell University, which uses the Napster service). That means Cornell students who prepare ahead of time will be able to play their tethered downloads until they return to campus; those who rely solely on the streaming will be out of luck over the summer.
Apple's approach may put it at a disadvantage in one way. Since students who download a lot of music during school will be loath to download it again from another service, the path of least resistance is to pay the Napster subscription fee after graduation. Of course, that raises the question of whether educational institutions should be paid to get their students hooked on Napster.
Where Apple Needs to Look -- These recent announcements show that Apple is by no means sitting still, although it remains to be seen how popular these various programs will be, given that they aren't of much interest to the individual users who are Apple's most loyal adherents. That said, I think there are several additional areas Apple would do well to investigate.
Streaming/Tethered Downloads: When Apple first introduced the iTunes Music Store, I was disappointed that there was no streamed iTunes Radio with songs from and links to the iTunes Music Store, since I find the 30-second clips rather annoying. I'd pay a subscription fee to listen to streamed songs in particular genres or from large groups of artists. Of course, such a service would have to make it trivially easy to purchase the song while it's playing, and it could either get by with a significantly reduced bitrate or could rely on the tethered download model used by Napster. The Windows-only Rhapsody service from RealNetworks also operates roughly on this model.
Video: In the MSN Music announcement, Microsoft made sure to note that some of the players that can play purchased music also have small color screens that can display video. It's entirely likely that much video is still too large and too hard to market (what would you pay to watch a TV show or movie on an iPod-like device?), but it's only a matter of time before it happens. Apple may want to be the company that makes it happen.
I will admit that when Apple first released the iPod and started selling downloadable music via the iTunes Music Store, I didn't anticipate that it would become such a key portion of the company's business. (In the last two quarters, Apple sold roughly as many iPods as Macs.) I don't see Apple losing focus on the Macintosh and Mac OS X, but I think it's now clear that while Apple must continue to execute in the Macintosh world, the battles that are being fought over Internet music services and portable music players will play a significant role in the company's future.
Article 12 of 14 in series
by Geoff Duncan
Apple's iTunes Music Store may be the current 800-pound gorilla of the online music industry (as far as paid downloads are concerned), but now Yahoo - possibly the most visited site on the Internet - is getting into the fray, paying $160 million in cash for MusicMatch, a Windows-only online music service. Yahoo already offers a free online streaming audio service called LAUNCHcast; it works with Windows and (badly) with Mac OS 9; Mac OS X has never been supportedShow full article
Apple's iTunes Music Store may be the current 800-pound gorilla of the online music industry (as far as paid downloads are concerned), but now Yahoo - possibly the most visited site on the Internet - is getting into the fray, paying $160 million in cash for MusicMatch, a Windows-only online music service.
Yahoo already offers a free online streaming audio service called LAUNCHcast; it works with Windows and (badly) with Mac OS 9; Mac OS X has never been supported. LAUNCHcast features user-defined stations with major label artists as well as independent artists from places like GarageBand.com.
By acquiring MusicMatch, Yahoo gets an online music service with:
A 700,000 song catalog (compare to 1 million songs for iTunes, 500,000 for the preview of MSN Music, and 700,000 for Rhapsody and Real Music Store)
Songs for sale at $0.99
An $8 per month subscription online radio service that lets customers listen to any song in the MusicMatch library
MusicMatch Jukebox, a highly regarded jukebox application for Windows that supports many portable digital music players, but not the iPod. One of the key things about MusicMatch Jukebox is that it makes it trivially easy to purchase a song you hear via one of its stations.
MusicMatch is privately held, but it has about 170 employees and its annual revenue is estimated at about $50 million. MusicMatch's all-you-can-eat music service has about 250,000 subscribers. Yahoo expects the acquisition to increase its online music audience from about 13 million people to nearly 24 million people by the end of the year.
I see a few take-away points from the acquisition. One is that Yahoo isn't so much trying to compete with Apple's iTunes Music Store as trying to get a leg up on other Internet entry points - Google, MSN, AOL - by offering both digital music downloads and a streaming music service.
The second is that, if Apple wants to keep the iTunes Music Store vital, it needs to offer some sort of online streaming audio service (for free and/or on a paid subscription model) and make it simple for users to purchase tracks they hear on the streams.
Third, if Apple wants to keep innovating with the iPod (and justify its never-declining sticker price!) it may have to look back to the days of transistor radios. Remember, Apple was the company that brought wireless networking to the masses, and recently shipped wireless music to stereo systems via AirPort Express. Can the day really be that far off when iPods sport wireless technology and are capable of tuning in online audio streams from your base station - or from hotspots in your neighborhood, your school, and your favorite coffee shop?
Article 13 of 14 in series
by Geoff Duncan
Apple Sells Its One Hundred and Fifty Millionth Song -- Apple continued to remind everyone it's the 400-pound gorilla of the online music industry by announcing it has now sold over 150 million songs on its iTunes Music ServiceShow full article
Apple Sells Its One Hundred and Fifty Millionth Song -- Apple continued to remind everyone it's the 400-pound gorilla of the online music industry by announcing it has now sold over 150 million songs on its iTunes Music Service. What's more, just in time for the holiday shopping season, iTunes gift cards will now be available in Best Buy stores in addition to Target and Apple's own retail stores. The announcement follows yesterday's financial results where Apple noted it shipped more than 2 million iPods during its fourth fiscal quarter. Apple says it's selling more than 4 million songs a week, which puts it at a pace to sell over 200 million songs per year.
This announcement's timing on the heels of fourth quarter results permits me to note Apple's "other music products" (anything but iPods) brought in $98 million last quarter, which is roughly a one-third increase over the same quarter a year ago. Combined with revenue from iPods, that means right now roughly one quarter of Apple's revenue has to do with music, not computers. [GD]
Article 14 of 14 in series
by Jeff Carlson
Apple last week fulfilled the wish of every Internet discussion-forum enthusiast who's longed for the capability to view photos on a tiny color screenShow full article
Apple last week fulfilled the wish of every Internet discussion-forum enthusiast who's longed for the capability to view photos on a tiny color screen. The new iPod Photo incorporates a color screen into the existing iPod form factor, enabling users to view digital images in addition to listening to music. The 220 by 176-pixel screen can display up to 65,536 colors. Like iPhoto, the iPod Photo can display screens of thumbnails (25 images at a time), or single photos by themselves, using the iPod's scroll wheel and middle button. It can also display album art for songs as they play. The device comes in two configurations: a 40 GB model for $500 and a 60 GB model for $600; both are available now.
In a bit of a conceptual disconnect, photos and photo albums are synchronized using the Auto-Sync capabilities of iTunes 4.7, which was released as a free 10.5 MB download. iTunes was probably chosen as the conduit because iPhoto doesn't exist under Windows; it can also pick up photos from Windows applications Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0 and Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0, or from a designated photos folder on either operating system. The Auto-Sync process converts your photos to lower-resolution versions for display on the screen, but you can opt to store high-resolution versions on the iPod, too.
If the iPod's screen is too small for your taste, an included AV cable connects the iPod Photo to a television for slideshow playback. An iPod Photo Dock, included with both models, adds an S-video connector.
Contributing Editor Glenn Fleishman pointed out that these connectors make the iPod Photo a remarkably compact presentation manager: load up your PowerPoint or Keynote presentation (after converting the slides to individual images), plug in a video projector, and leave the laptop in your hotel room. It's not far from what Adam did with his Canon PowerShot digital camera at a user group presentation when a projector failed to show up (see "The PowerShot Presentation" in TidBITS-669).
Apple claims that battery life is improved on the new model, with up to 15 hours of continuous music or 5 hours of continuous slideshows with music.
Does the iPod Photo herald the imminent arrival of a video iPod? Although the existing color screen wouldn't realistically be suitable for video playback, having video-out capabilities could, in theory, turn the iPod into a portable video playback device - a portable TiVo, if you will, for watching movies and television shows while you're on the road. The problem is, you can already do that with a PowerBook or iBook. And Steve Jobs has made it clear that Apple believes photos are more compelling on a portable device such as the iPod right now, compared to other video devices that are already on the market. I do think that Apple is slowly laying the paving stones required to someday offer videos on portable devices and via the iTunes Music (Media?) Store, but only according to Apple's schedule.
U2 Can Enjoy an iPod -- In other iPod news, Apple announced the iPod U2 Special Edition model. In addition to engraved signatures of the members of the band U2, the front face is black instead of white, with a red scroll wheel; it's available only in a 20 GB configuration. It also includes a $50 gift certificate that can be applied to "The Complete U2," a digital boxed-set of the band's music containing 400 songs and 25 unreleased tracks. (Contrary to some reports, no music from U2 is included on the iPod.) An included exclusive U2 poster will no doubt seal the deal for some fans. The iPod U2 Special Edition will be available in mid-November for $350.
European iTMS -- Finally, Apple also announced that it has launched a European version of the iTunes Music Store. Previously available in the U.S., France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, the EU iTunes Music Store now also supports Portugal, Spain, Luxembourg, Italy, Greece, Austria, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Finland, all with songs priced at EU0.99 apiece. Apple also says it finally plans to launch its iTunes Music Store in Canada during November.
Also noteworthy is news that a version of the iTunes Music Store for Ireland (the only European Union nation not included in last week's announcement) was apparently planned for the EU rollout, but some last-minute glitches held it up. Hopefully we'll see it come online soon.