Friday, April 30, 2004

Eh... close counts...

Well, the results are in from the Pepsi-iTunes promo, and they're not much to get particularly excited about. According to this CNET article, Pepsi's yellow bottle caps only brought in five million songs ("Pepsi's iTunes Promotion Goes Flat" Get it? Flat? Soda? Get it? Ha.).

Meanwhile, Think Secret is reporting that Apple's internal goal for the promo was 25 million songs, further adding to the "bust" factor in the redemtion rate.

But why the lackluster success, especially when the iTMS is the most successful online music store out there? Well, part of it could be the fact that the promo bottles took a while arriving in some places across the country. Also, it could be because it's Pepsi. Sure, there's the wonderful irony (I'll explain in a second), but Coke is still number one. (I won most of my free songs from 7-11 cups because I don't drink Pepsi.)

So, the irony (for those who don't know some of the more bizarre details in Apple's history): Back in early '80s, Steve Jobs courted the then-CEO of Pepsi, John Sculley, to come to Apple. Reportedly, Steve used this since-famous line to convince John: "Do you want to sell sugar water to kids all your life, or do you want to have a chance to make a difference?" Eventually Sculley agreed and became Apple's CEO. After a few years Jobs became dissatisfied with him and attempted to stage a boardroom coup, but Sculley found out and stripped him of most of his power. Not wanting to settle for a ceremonial position in the company, Jobs left and founded "NeXT." Years later, Apple bought NeXT and Steve moved back up to the top (NeXT's programming language, NeXT Step, is a relative of OS X's Cocoa).

Anyway, I guess you really can't change the world by selling sugar water.

Yeah... um... "Features"

Apple's finally - though silently - declared war tools used to strip iTunes Music Store songs of their DRM protection. How? Well, just download anything from the iTMS using iTunes 4.5 and try to strip the DRM using a piece of software like "PlayFair" (cutting to the chase: it won't work).

What Apple's done exactly obviously isn't obvious (got that?), but they seem to have altered the FairPlay DRM to resist existing tools for stripping it. That's why iPods need a software update to play new iTMS songs (in a related story, some people are reporting problems installing the new update, and Apple is looking into it).

As a trade-off-of-sorts, iTMS songs can now be played on up to five computers (nifty!). Apple added that feature with extremely little fan fare, and remains silent about the DRM-upgrade.

Hmmm... looks like a warning shot to developers looking to get around FairPlay. Well, take note (you know who you are).

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Groovy 4.5!

The iTunes Music Store is celebrating its one-year anniversary and Apple has rolled out iTunes 4.5, full of spiffy new iTMS features.

- Party Shuffe: It looks like smart playlists meet dumb playlists with random shuffle added for "DJ" fun ("DJ" seems to be the new buzz word with iTunes 4.5).
- iMix: Publish your playlists on the iTMS so other people can see just how bad your taste is (or, as Apple puts it, become an "iTunes Celebrity").
- You can now save iTMS previews (you know, those 30-second clips).
- Finally, iTunes has a use for a song's cover art! You can actually print jewel case inserts for CDs using all sorts of different options, and you can now print song lists if you want a hard copy of your favorite playlist.
- Goodbye WMA, iTunes will convert unprotected WMA files into AAC (on Windows only).
- Apple Lossless: Yet another new audio codec, Apple Lossless promises all the quality of CD audio at half the file size (still, that's a pretty huge file).

iTunes 4.5 has a whole lot of new features packed into it, and is available on Mac and PC today. Also available today is a free iTMS track from the Foo Fighters (who cares what it is? it's free!).

Other notes about the iTMS milestone:
- 70 million songs sold
- 700,000 tracks available for download

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Groovy conference calls...

AppleInsider is pointing to "at least one source" and claiming that updates to both iTunes and the iPod are coming soon.

By the way, howdy! How was your April? Mine was kinda busy.

Well, speculation has been abound about updates to the iPods, and rumor has it (well, we do deal in rumors here) that these 4th-Generation models might have some pretty spiff new features. Everything from mini-style clickwheels to color screens have been mentioned, but nothing particularly reliable has surfaced yet. With the mini doing so well, Apple may be feeling comfortable enough to experiment with the iPod a bit (but that doesn't seem particularly likely right now).

Meanwhile, iTunes could be ready for the leap forward to "iTunes 5," although there really hasn't been that much talk about iTunes right now. Mac Rumors mentions that more than a couple ways to sneak around the "Fairplay" DRM has surfaced, but doesn't say much else. There have also been several reports of record companies lobbying to increase the price of digital music, but I doubt Apple will give into demands like that without putting up one hell of a fight.

A lot of the speculation right now is surrounding an "iTunes Music Store Anniversary Conference Call" planned for 8:30 a.m. PDT tomorrow. Of course, any new announcements would pile on top of the new Powerbooks, iBooks, and Motion (Apple's newest pro-app for video), but the timing sure seems right (the current iPods will celebrate their first birthday this sunday).