Zazzle Shop

Screen printing

Monday, September 8, 2008

Apple News-- Will it be Itunes 8- Subscriptions for content?

Tomorrow, Apple will unveil... Something. The press event, entitled "Let's Rock", is the usual Apple tease. Apple has apparently been pushing this as a big event, encouraging journalists to fly out to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Usually, Apple events take place at the smaller Moscone Center, which means that this actually could contain some surprises.

And, for the sake of the share prices, there's going to have to be a surprise. The new 4G Nano has seen so much coverage already that the information should be considered more a flood than a leak. This is the downside of Apple's infamous secrecy: if your secrets get out, you have nothing left to tell anyone.

Earlier this year, at its quarterly earnings conference call, Apple's CFO Peter Oppenheimer stated that the next quarter revenue would affected by a "future product transition". This has been taken by many to be the fabled tablet Mac (with unicorn-horn antenna). Others think it will be a touchscreen MacBook Pro. I call nonsense on these.

September's Apple Events have, for the last few years, been all about the iPod, with some iTunes announcements thrown in. A new Nano isn't enough to hire a bigger venue and encourage the press to fill it up. And a few new widescreen iPods certainly isn't a major "product transition". The evidence here all points to a brand new iTunes.

What will those new features be? Rose:

- New audio visualization

- Genius playlist

- Genius sidebar

- Grid view

The first and last are UI tweaks, and alone wouldn't justify a full-point update. The Genius Playlist and Sidebar would, though. These, if real, are expected to work something like Pandora or Last.FM, recommending music based on your tastes and either sending you off to the App Store or putting together a playlist of your existing music.

But again, this doesn't account for the "transition". My suspicion is that we will finally see a subscription model for music. There, I said it. ITunes 8 will appear tomorrow and will allow users to pay a yearly or monthly subscription for as much music as they can listen to. If you love it, click to buy. Steve Jobs will want to pitch this as a better product as all the other streaming services, so expect up to 256kbps streaming, based on bandwidth.

This will also, I expect, tie-in to the iPod and iPhone. Expect streaming over Wi-Fi (forget 3G and EDGE -- the telcos couldn't cope with the bandwidth) for the Touch and iPhone. Less sure, but certainly possible, would be iPods which come with a subscription in a box. Pay, say, $100 more for the iPod and it effectively comes with free music for a year.

This would certainly be a "future product transition". Overall revenue might not take a hit, but Apple would have to account for music sales the same way as it has to account for iPhone sales. These are not counted at the time of purchase, so all the profits would be shifted to the following year, making the current year look a little lean.

So that's the big surprise for tomorrow morning. A new Nano? Sure. Revised iPod Touches? We hope so. IPods shipping with as much music as you could ever listen to? Why not?