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Rumor: Apple making longterm plans to retire music downloads? (Update: Source doubles down)

Apple has been making plans to completely eliminate music downloads on the iTunes Store, according to a new report from Digital Music News. Sources “with close and active business relationships with Apple” have told Digital Music News that the company is actively considering a two-year termination timetable, and discussions within Apple have begun focusing on not if purchased music downloads should be retired for good, but rather when it’s going to happen. A range of shutdown timetables are apparently being considered by Apple, with executives suggesting that the company no longer expects to run the service indefinitely, although it may ride out iTunes music sales for a few more years until paid music downloads are eclipsed by “a streaming-dominated industry.”

While it’s unclear exactly why Apple would want to kill off a profitable business market — music industry analysts expect that iTunes music download revenue will still be around $600 million in 2019 — there may be concerns within Apple that the availability of digital download sales are limiting the success of the Apple Music streaming service by providing iTunes and iOS users with options, and that the overlap between Apple Music and the iTunes Store is creating product confusion, both in terms of purchasing products and in the combination of other overlapping services such as iCloud Music Library and iTunes Match. Further, despite the revenue from digital music sales, analysts suggest that music purchases in this form are in rapid decline, dropping by 15 to 30 percent year-over-year, suggesting that Apple may be planning a proactive exit strategy in a world that’s moving progressively more toward streaming services.

Update: A two-word refutation from Apple, as spokesman Tom Neumayr told Re/code that the report is simply “not true.”

Update 2, 6/8/16: Digital Music News is standing firm with its 2-3 year timeframe for Apple phasing out iTunes downloads, saying that sources with knowledge of the company’s plans are still adamant despite public denials. The site claims music downloads have entered a “free fall” this year and the decision to finally pull the plug on music download sales will depend on how sharply sales decline, how quickly streaming accelerates and the internal politics at Apple. It’s interesting that the site is doubling down despite Apple’s firm denial after the initial report was released — there’s a good possibility that factions inside Apple may be split on this issue.

NBC Sports Radio now available in Music app

A live stream from NBC Sports Radio is now available for free through the iOS Music app or iTunes. The station joins NPR and BBC World Service as free listening options for Apple users and includes sports talk personalities like Mike Florio, Chris Mannix, Amani Toomer and Rodney Harrison. The update comes ahead of a rumored overhaul of Apple Music expected to be unveiled at WWDC. [via Apple Insider]

Apple releases iTunes 12.4.1

Less than a month after the release of iTunes 12.4, Apple has pushed out iTunes 12.4.1, a minor maintenance update that addresses a number of problems with VoiceOver, restores the option to Reset Plays, and fixes issues with Up Next playing songs in the incorrect order and crossfading between songs. The update is available for direct download from www.iTunes.com or via Apple’s Software Update tools.

Apple engineers visit musician’s home, are stumped by iTunes deletions

After going public with his gripe about Apple Music deleting 122 GB of music off his personal computer, musician James Pinkstone added a new blog entry detailing what happened when Apple sent two engineers to his house to investigate the issue. Running a special version of iTunes designed to document any further mass deletions, the engineers spent hours troubleshooting but weren’t able to replicate the issue. Of particular concern was that there is no pattern to what was deleted, with files of all types, sizes and genres suddenly disappearing.

Apple releases iOS 9.3.2, watchOS 2.2.1, tvOS 9.2.1, iTunes 12.4

Apple has released a whole slew of updates this afternoon, as iOS 9.3.2, watchOS 2.2.1, tvOS 9.2.1, and iTunes 12.4 have all been launched to the general public. The updates are mostly made of bug fixes and minor enhancements, but as alluded to last week, a few design and navigation tweaks have been made to iTunes. Also, the iOS update fixes a Bluetooth audio quality issue with the iPhone SE. The updates are currently available. We’ll add to this piece this afternoon if there are any other major findings.

Apple scrambles to fix bug deleting some users’ iTunes music

Apple has confirmed that an iTunes bug has delete locally stored music from some users’ libraries and said the company is working on a fix, iMore reports. Last week a blog entry from one Apple Music user claimed 122 GB of personal music files had suddenly gone missing from his computer. The post led to speculation that confusion over the “Remove Download” and “Delete Song” options in Apple Music had led the user to accidentally delete his songs across all devices when he had only intended to clear them off a secondary device, but an Apple spokesman later confirmed, “In an extremely small number of cases users have reported that music files saved on their computer were removed without their permission. We’re taking these reports seriously as we know how important music is to our customers and our teams are focused on identifying the cause.”

Podcasters voice serious complaints with Apple

During a meeting with Apple, seven top podcasters voiced serious concerns over the company’s apparent lack of interest in their business, The New York Times reports. Despite essentially creating the format for downloading “digital audio shows” in 2005, Apple’s cumbersome process for promoting shows and lack of solid tools for artists to share and monetize their work drew serious criticism, according to two attendees of the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Leaked screenshots show minor updates coming to iTunes 12.4

Leaked screenshots obtained by MacRumors show only minor tweaks coming to Apple’s iTunes 12.4 redesign, expected to launch in late May or early June. The toggler to switch between types of media has been changed from the existing icons to a dropdown menu, with forward and back buttons that can also be used to flip between sections. The updated left sidebar provides quicker access to specific songs or albums within iTunes. Both the media toggler and sidebar can be edited to display only desired types of content.

Apple to reveal ‘sweeping changes’ to Apple Music interface at WWDC

Apple will reveal sweeping changes to Apple Music at this year’s WWDC in an effort to draw new interest in the streaming music service, Bloomberg reports. Sources familiar with the plans said the company is trying to make Apple Music’s user interface much more intuitive after the first version was met with tepid reviews and failed to draw the numbers that competitors like Spotify boast. Insiders said development of that first product was complicated by internal culture clashes within Apple that had been brewing ever since the company acquired Beats two years ago, with the company still struggling to integrate the two groups of employees and unite its streaming and download businesses into one coherent music promotion strategy.

Apple ordered to shut down iBooks and iTunes Movie sales in China

Only six months after Apple began selling iBooks and iTunes Movies in China, the company has now been ordered by a Chinese Government agency to shut down sales, The New York Times reports. Although Apple originally had the Chinese government’s approval to introduce the services, a government regulatory agency — the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television — stepped in last week and demanded the services be shut down. While Apple has been unusually successful in introducing new products into the Chinese market, this about-face could be a sign of future problems brewing in China, which is Apple’s second-largest market.

Apple releases data showing how often it complies with government data requests

Apple has published a Report on Government Information Requests covering how it handled demands for information from law enforcement agencies received during the second half of 2015. The company said the “vast majority” of those requests were for information about lost or stolen devices, about which Apple complied 80 percent of the time within the United States. Totals outside the U.S. fluctuated between 52 and 80 percent.

Apple shutting down iTunes Allowance program

Apple has announced that it will be ending the iTunes Allowance program as of May 25, 2016. The allowance feature, which has been available on the iTunes Store for over a decade, was designed to allow parents to setup iTunes Store accounts for their children and automatically add a fixed amount of credit to the account each month. Apple has suggested that users instead move to the new Family Sharing feature debuted in iOS 8, which allows purchases by children on a shared family account to require approval by a parent on an item-by-item basis. Users can also still send iTunes Gifts electronically, either as a dollar amount or for specific items, and of course traditional iTunes Store Gift Cards remain an option as well. Apple notes that users will not be able to create new iTunes Allowances as of April 13, 2016, and existing allowances will automatically be cancelled as of May 25, 2016, with any unused credit remaining in the recipient’s account until it’s used, in the same manner as credit from an iTunes Gift or Gift Card.

Reports detail Apple’s extensive cloud infrastructure projects

Apple has been migrating more of its cloud computing to Google, but a new report from The Information claims the company is aiming to create its own extensive set of data centers and servers to bring all of its cloud services in-house. Last week CRN reported Apple has quietly been moving much of its cloud computing to the Google Cloud Platform and away from Amazon Web Services, whose infrastructure it uses to run online services like iCloud. Anonymous sources said Apple is now spending between $400 million and $600 million on Google’s services after becoming dissatisfied with AWS being unable to quickly load photos and videos on users’ iOS devices.

Steve Jobs biopic available on Blu-ray, DVD today

After a rocky rollout, disappointing box office returns and pointed criticism from those who knew the Apple founder best, Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs biopic is available on Blu-ray and DVD today. The film, which traces Jobs’ life alongside three of his most iconic product launches, met with mostly positive reviews and garnered Academy Award nominations for stars Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet, but never really caught on with the general movie-going audience and was pulled from theaters after two weeks. Despite ruffling plenty of feathers at Apple, the movie arrived on iTunes today, though with no promotion or fanfare.

Free ad-supported iTunes Radio to end Jan. 29

Apple has announced in an email to customers that it will be discontinuing its free ad-supported version of iTunes Radio. Starting on Jan. 29, iTunes Radio will only be accessible with an Apple Music subscription. iTunes Match users will also be losing ad-free iTunes Radio as a perk — the only place to access those stations will be behind the Apple Music paywall. Apple’s Beats 1 station will be the only free remaining music option from Apple. We’d expect that Apple will announce additional free Beats stations — Beats 2-5 — to give customers more free music options, but we’ll see.

Apple Hi-Res Audio coming in 2016?

Apple is planning to introduce higher-resolution audio in 2016, according to Macotakara. The Japanese blog claims Apple’s own Hi-Res Audio would be 96kHz/24-bit quality. The updated audio option could come to iTunes and possibly Apple Music this year, but we must note this has been rumored for some time — a similar report from the same source surfaced in May 2014. There’s also some debate about how much of an advantage higher bit-rate audio would make for most listeners. This report also claims third-party companies are preparing more Lightning audio products for 2016, as it’s been rumored that Apple could drop the standard headphone jack from the iPhone 7, forcing listeners to use Lightning-based or Bluetooth audio options.

Apple releases iTunes 12.3.2

Apple has released iTunes 12.3.2, a minor update that adds the Apple Music enhancements related to browsing for Classical music that appeared in iOS 9.2 earlier this week — specifically the ability to see works, composers, and performers while browsing through Classical music in the Apple Music catalog. The new version also includes the usual stability and performance improvements. iTunes 12.3.2 is available as a software update in the Mac App Store, or as a direct download from iTunes.com.

Apple raises some iTunes Match, iCloud Music Library limits to 100K songs

After reports of multiple users being able to go over the old limit of 25,000 songs in their iTunes Match or iCloud Music Libraries, Eddy Cue confirmed Apple has “started rolling out support for 100k libraries,” MacRumors reports. When Apple Music launched in June, Cue promised Apple was working on raising the limit to accommodate larger libraries. Several users have documented pushing past the 25,000 song mark, but Apple still hasn’t updated its support page or made a public announcement, so it’s unclear how many users have access to the extra capacity and when the rollout will be complete.

Some Apple Music and iTunes Match services may be illegal in the U.K.

The U.K. Intellectual Property Office has officially abandoned a private-copying exemption that made it legal for users to back up their music, putting a spotlight on possible problems ahead for Apple Music and iTunes Match users in the country, 1709 reports. The exemption was put in place last year to protect users backing up their own legally purchased music from the punishments faced by those pirating music online. The IPO’s decision not to submit a revised version after the U.K.‘s high court ruled against the exemption leaves U.K. users to wonder if their music libraries stored on personal devices or the cloud are still legal. While it’s unlikely that individual users will be prosecuted for backing up their music under the existing law, Apple will need to reevaluate the terms on which it offers many services since things like copying tracks into a user’s iTunes Match library or making songs in Apple Music available for offline listening now seem to violate U.K. law. [via Gizmodo]

Apple under investigation in Germany for audiobook deal with Amazon

Germany’s Federal Cartel Office is investigating Apple’s agreement for distributing audiobooks from Amazon, Reuters reports. The inquiry comes a little more than a month after Apple rid itself of a court-appointed antitrust monitor put in place by a 2013 ruling over the company’s conspiracy with publishers to fix e-book prices. The German investigation focuses on Apple’s long-term agreement to sell audiobooks from Amazon’s Audible business through iTunes. “The two companies have a strong position in the digital offering of audiobooks in Germany. Therefore, we feel compelled to examine the agreement between these two competitors in the audiobooks in more detail,” cartel office chief Andreas Mundt said in the statement. Both Apple and Amazon declined to comment.

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