For some of us out there, screen time as a kid meant watching Bric-a-Brac with one of those weirdly dry pink wafer biscuits after school. Unless you’re a big fan of Dave, then you’ve probably moved on with your life. No more pink wafer biscuits but way more options when it comes to your screen of choice.
And not just screens, but music too. How’s that CD collection, still growing? No, of course it isn’t, what is this, 1995?
You probably read the announcement just days ago that Apple’s iTunes platform is shuffling off this mortal coil and, to mix a metaphor in the ugliest way possible, heading off to pastures new. In many ways, the fact that iTunes has lasted as long as it has is something of a miracle. Clunky and hard to navigate, it’s an old dog incapable of learning new tricks in its current guise. Times and consumer demand had changed and for those of us who made the switch to Spotify aeons ago, this seems like it’s very late in the day.
But it had a good innings. The platform was launched in 2001 alongside the coolest of cool MP3 players, the iPod with its weirdly irritating clicky wheel thing. If you were heading to iPods straight from the CD generation, you were lucky your mind didn’t explode with the knowledge that you could store some one thousand songs on this device. If you were from the preceding cassette tape generation, you’re probably still trying to recover.
It wasn’t the first of its kind. Napster loomed large with a reputation as the bad boy of file sharing, ticking off artists with free but illegal downloads. The unlikely coupling of Dr Dre and Metallica sued the pants off Napster after losing millions of dollars in sales.
The newly stuffed iTunes didn’t have that problem with all its music acquired the right way. An iTunes phone soon followed. It was rubbish and was quickly replaced with the iPhone which was…not rubbish and the rest is sweet Apple history.
But like everything as the times change, so does the way we consume music.
Well kind of.
If you were a mixtape kind of kid, we’d bet a kidney you’ve turned into a Spotify playlist kind of grown-up. The pay for, download and keep forever model that iTunes threw out there was really an online version of buying a CD every Saturday after saving up money from your paper round.
We’re not necessarily after a whole album and spending 99 cents on a song seemed ludicrous when you had the likes of Spotify’s free or premium service. Both iTunes and Spotify now offer a monthly subscription, but it was Spotify that raced ahead with its free offering. Despite only allowing users random play and preventing downloads, the ability to create free playlists more than sealed the deal. That small amount of control was just enough to keep people loyal. The best iTunes could come up with for its free option was streaming Beats1 Radio or listening to your pre-existing library.
So, what now for this giant? Well, it’s certainly not dead in the water. In fact, if anything it’s like the Ancient Greek’s water monster the Hydra, cut off its head and three grow in its place. Leaving aside water-based mythology for a second, iTunes has indeed decided to close down its main platform to replace it with three separate functions. We give you Apple Music, Apple Podcasts and Apple TV. You’ll note that the whole iSomething has been dropped in what appears to be a deliberate move to distance itself from its previous incarnation. How soon before the iPhone loses its lower-case moniker? With the likes of the Apple Watch rather than an iWatch, we don’t think it will be all that long.
It’s the smart move, focussing individual attention on three distinct markets, allowing them to compete on equal but distinct terms with nearest rival Spotify. It may have taken its time getting here but now it’s arrived Apple can be reassured that they’ll maintain their loyal fanbase of users.
The big question will be if it can persuade loyal Spotify users over. What would it take to turn a premium user away from the dark side? It remains to be seen if Apple’s master plan is enough to put up a decent fight but at least it’s done something to stem the flow of defections and this might just mean a reversal of the tide. There must be a streaming joke in there somewhere…