Apple announced and released a new version of iTunes last Wednesday at its annual music-related September press conference—iTunes 10. Ten is a nice round number, and it’s a milestone release. So what’s new in iTunes 10?
Well…not much. The volume bar is thicker and easier to click. The view options are slightly retooled and now there are four instead of three. The colored icons on the left side for music, movies, podcasts and whatnot are now gray. Pretty much all of iTunes is a shade of gray, with intermittent use of the most depressing shade of blue ever. Yawn.
There is one new feature, nestled under the “Store” category. It’s called Ping, and it is a social network for music. Yes, between following celebrities on Twitter, clicking Facebook “Like” buttons like an Internet-wide game of Whack-a-Mole and being propositioned by alleged 16-year-old girls on MySpace to meet at a motel room, you now have another profile to keep active.
Here is how Ping works: You create an account. You enter the iTunes music store. You find a song or album you enjoy. You’re presented with two options: “Like” the song or album (hello, Facebook) or post the song or album to your page. You can also “Follow” artists, producers and other Pingers (hello, Twitter) and have their activity show up on your page.
If this sounds very simple to you, you’re right. Apple’s entry into the world of online socializing is very bare bones and no-frills. If this sounds very boring to you, you’re also right. Ping is awesome if we’re living in the year 2000 and there’s no other game in cyber town. But in 2010, Ping is very late to the party. Not only that, but this party is crowded. If it had a bouncer—and it really, really, needs one—Ping wouldn’t get in on its good looks alone. The way Ping gets into the party is by entering with its really attractive and popular buddies—iTunes, its various media stores, and the iPhone. That’s how Ping becomes the life of the party.
Apple knows all of this. Ping is packaged in with iTunes 10, a free upgrade users get an obtrusive notification about every week or so. Once you’re rockin’ the new iTunes, Ping gets prime real estate on the left-hand side, along with music and movies, and a tab in the iTunes Store—along with the “Like” and “Post” buttons on every page inside the music store.
For now, Ping is strictly a social network for music, but there’s no way it won’t be expanded to cover TV shows and movies. Apple already has all that content for sale. Also announced at last week’s event were 99-cent TV show rentals. That’s down from $3.99/$4.99 to outright buy an episode and makes renting an impulse move, one that’s easily spurred along by a friend thumbs-upping. “Everyone likes Mad Men, but I don’t know if I will. Oh wait, that guy I work with who watches 70 hours of TV each week likes it. Maybe I’ll give it a try.” That’s a conversation millions of people will have with Ping when it branches out to the rest of the iTunes Store.
Then there’s the iPhone (and by extension, Apple’s mobile operating system iOS). Ping has a dedicated tab in the iTunes Store app. Since my old iPhone works about as well as rehab for Lindsay Lohan, I can’t comment directly on how it is, but from what I’ve read, the experience with Ping on iOS devices is a lot more seamless and intuitive.
On top of all that, Apple has a huge userbase to rope into using Ping: 120 million iOS devices sold and 160 million iTunes users the world over. In 48 hours after Ping’s launch, 1 million people had registered. That’s quick. And there are more than 100 million other users who are a three-minute sign-up away from joining in.
This is all from the user’s point of view. Artists, labels and (eventually) movie and TV studios will absolutely love Ping for one reason—it is covered in links to “Buy Now.” If you open Ping, close your eyes and randomly click a few times, there’s no way you won’t buy something.
Will be Ping successful? Right now, if it stays exactly as is, I don’t think so. It’s just way too plain and boring to use. But Apple has so much to leverage, its theme song could be Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok”: “The party don’t start till I walk in!
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Twitter should open a media store. Songs would have four-second previews befor you buy. TV shows would play at 4x speed by default. Movies would skip every other scene. The strategy? The quicker you watch, the quicker you can buy more!