As part of its iPod+iTunes expansion scheme, Apple recently made some important changes. Strangely enough however, these were almost obliterated by the more popular Nike co-branding and the arrival of the first MacBook units. Yet, we may have witnessed and ignored the one thing that is going to propel iTunes into its next level of success.
Call me French, I’m a big believer in the interconnected Internet, something others would probably name the “semantic web”. Streams of information, judiciously picked and assembled, over which the user has a certain amount of control piping news and relevant data into smart processing engines. Such a system, of course, requires that every application or site involved has an interface to communicate with the open world.
Contrary to popular belief, it does not require that projects be open source or standard. In fact, any good old proprietary piece of fecal matter can take part in an interconnected, open discussion provided it manages to master rudiments of the networks’ language — as a good example, think of all these proprietary firmwares that power switches and networking devices. While an entirely open, or at least standards-compliant, system certainly would be best in many regards, such drastic change is not necessary.
Strangely enough, the one application praised for having managed to create a complete ecosystem, iTunes, had so far resisted to the trend. My esteemed colleague, Erica Sadun recently gave us a great overview of ways to tap into iTunes but the actual means at our disposal are pretty limited. Much in the same way, while I applaud Stanford’s efforts to open an iTunes “store” of their own, soon followed by other schools, this academically significant experience lacks a certain mass-market appeal.
So, what’s the big news? Let’s scroll back a few years, shall we? When Apple was still rumored to work on an iMusic store of some kind, we all imagined a shiny web site, maybe even a .Mac-integrated system with glossy Aqua buttons and album covers, allowing hordes of users to purchase music with their web browser. Little did we imagine, of course, that hell would freeze over and iTunes would be able to run on pretty much every consumer computer out there — and yes, I lament the lack of a linux iTunes as much as many of my readers but a linux iTunes would mean a linux QuickTime, etc…
By making iTunes so widely available, Apple certainly went a long way towards market saturation but lost some ground in terms of syndication, partnerships and content mixing. Well, this was solved not too long ago with the opening of the first few real iTunes Music Store web interfaces, as part of co-branding efforts.
Looking into it, there isn’t much happening: sites pull information from iTunes, display it in a web-friendly fashion and, when the time of purchase has come, re-direct users to good old iTunes with a partner referral link. In other words, this system seems to mostly be built upon existing technologies and services available from or at Apple. Yet, it remains new as a global effort and opens the way to a greater iTunes presence.
Think of the possibility to include an iTunes mosaic to blogs, automated “what I am listening to now” RSS feeds, think of what it could mean for artists and bands to operate their own “web store” through iTunes. Of course since the user is taken back to the application itself to enjoy the freshly downloaded track, Apple doesn’t lose in terms of image or presence. They simply multiply the number of entry doors.
We should celebrate!