The iPod + iPhone Year in Review 2007
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After major changes in 2006—the release of iTunes 7.0, which added games, movie downloads, a Cover Flow artwork browser, and gapless playback to the popular and iPod-essential media management software—2007 was a year for repeated iTunes “point releases,” with smaller, iterative changes and lots of bug fixes. March saw the release of iTunes 7.1, adding support for Apple TV synchronization and a bunch of new track sorting options, while iTunes 7.2 came at the end of May to add downloading of DRM-free iTunes Plus songs from the iTunes Store, and iTunes 7.3 arrived in June, enabling at-home iPhone activation. Each of these versions required substantial behind-the-scenes changes to the iTunes software, but users saw only handfuls of new, relatively easy to use dialog boxes that had been designed to spare them more confusion.
Two more versions of iTunes appeared before 2007’s end. September’s iTunes 7.4 added a potentially major new iPhone feature—ringtone creation—as well as support for a brand new feature called the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store. The latter feature enabled iPhone and iPod touch users to download music directly from those devices when connected to any wireless 802.11b/g network, using details synchronized from their PC or Mac iTunes Store accounts. The former feature created 99-cent ringtones from certain 99-cent iTunes Store song downloads, but nothing else; Apple repeatedly blocked users’ attempts to create and sync their own ringtones to the iPhone. This infuriated users, and eventually led Apple to quietly introduce a free make-your-own-ringtone feature into its own GarageBand program.
In November, iTunes 7.5 appeared, adding support for European iPhone activations, automatic backups and bidirectional calendar synchronizations for the iPod touch, and in-iTunes battery charge indicators for connected, recent iPods and the iPhone. It also provided background support for a new iPod game called Phase, creating a special playlist and information needed by the rhythm-based game to match its on-screen button pressing action roughly to the sound of your selected tracks.
Though iTunes has continued to make a lot of progress over the past year, it has also become the source of numerous complaints: sluggishness, synchronization problems, and sorting issues dogged a number of releases leading up to version 7.5, and multi-month gaps between updates often left problems unresolved for extended periods of time. Given the ever-increasing scope of iTunes’ features, Apple’s decision to release versions prior to fully eradicating their bugs has been compromising the company’s reputation for products that “just work,” and leaving even long-time fans wondering whether the company has adopted a Microsoft-like “ship, then fix” attitude to software development.
Since positive iTunes Store news was under the radar for much of 2007—most notably, the Store hit the 3 billion songs mark in late July, and added several noteworthy artists, including former Beatles members, to its catalog—many of the biggest iTunes stories of the year weren’t what was added, but rather, what disappeared or never showed up at all. A messy public battle with NBC over pricing—and, apparently, the network’s competing video service—led Apple to refuse to carry the Fall 2007 lineup of fan-favorite NBC shows, including The Office and Heroes, ultimately seeing all of the company’s catalog disappear in December. TV shows never appeared in numerous international territories, with the exception of the United Kingdom and Canada, which received limited releases; movie downloads never materialized internationally and stagnated in the U.S. store, as well.
The biggest international bright spot for the iTunes Store in 2007? Arguably iPod Games. While the number of games sold and the library of available titles can’t compare with music, TV shows, or movies, the variety of games has continued to steadily increase internationally, and more noteworthy developers—Harmonix, Sega, Hudston Soft, Sony’s Na-Na-On-Sha, and Gameloft—have been joining the iPod development ranks. Unlike the other genres of iTunes Store content, which grow or shrink based on the waxing or waning of company or artist interest in iTunes, as well as international agreements, games are available anywhere in the world at once, and don’t disappear. Unfortunately, since Apple makes no guarantees about game compatibility for future iPods, it’s unclear whether people will continue to invest in titles that they may not be able to play on next year’s models, but at least the variety keeps improving over time.
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