Tuesday, 16 November 2010

iTunes web store and Android app

Update: it was just the Beatles after all. Ah well...

Yesterday's teaser on Apple's home page came completely out of the blue. It seems no one was expecting it. The teaser represents several notable departures from Apple's typical media management:
  • It only gives one day's notice, rather than a week
  • It's on their website, rather than e-mailed to selected journalists
  • It explicitly states it's about iTunes, rather than just hinting what it's about
  • It's happening at 10am New York time, rather than California time
  • Seemingly no media event ("Stevenote")
Some say that it's going to be the Beatles catalog, finally appearing on iTunes. While this is certainly long overdue, it would hardly be the kind of earth-shattering news that justifies the claim "you'll never forget." Any serious Beatles fans ripped their treasured CDs into iTunes years ago. Sure, maybe this will be an appetiser, but it's unlikely to be the entrée.

Other guesses include a new subscription service, or a cloud service. These seem implausible to me, simply because iTunes 10.1 was launched only last week, and another update would be required in order to push out these kind of feature.

So what could it be?

My money is on iTunes' finally opening up its ecosystem to support 3rd party devices. I've outlined this strategy before, which would be predicated on maintaining iTunes market dominating position, even as consumers move from dedicated MP3 players, of which iPod claims the lion's share, to smart phones, of which iPhone is one of many.

If this happens, we can expect to see a web-based version of the iTunes store launching, plus iTunes apps for Android, plus maybe Windows 7 Phone and Blackberry.

It may seem like a strange idea to provide iTunes on competitor platforms. Think of it as the "glass of ice water" strategy. It once seemed equally unlikely that Apple would give iTunes away free to Windows users. At AllThingsD in 2007, Steve Jobs explained it was like "giving a glass of ice water to people in hell." In fact, it's a beach-head into competitor territory - once people get used to using iTunes, their next gadget is more likely to have an Apple logo on it.

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