Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Apple delays iTunes 11

Jonny Evans/Computer World
Apple [AAPL] is proud of something else this morning: making the decision not to ship iTunes 11 because it isn’t ready yet -- that’s another significant move in a week of significant moves: it shows the company’s getting the message that those things it does ship must be ready to go.

Ship when its ready

The company’s still feeling the brunt of long-standing criticism of Siri and more recent castigation for the state of Apple Maps. Both these software release disasters cast shadows of the MobileMe blunders which did so much damage to the company’s reputation as an Internet services provider.

In a statement to All Things Digital (increasingly used by Apple as the mouthpiece for its latest off-release news), company PR, Tom Neumayr, said: “The new iTunes is taking longer than expected and we wanted to take a little extra time to get it right. We look forward to releasing this new version of iTunes with its dramatically simpler and cleaner interface and seamless integration with iCloud before the end of November.”

iTunes and iCloud sit under the command of Apple’s legendary fixer of broken things, Eddy Cue. Cue also runs iAds, the App Store and iBookstore, and has taken over Maps.

With cloud services the emerging watchword for future IT evolution in the post-PC era, it’s a wonder really people haven’t yet begun speculating the business-savvy, cloud-aware executive as another future Apple CEO. He’s as capable of playing hardball in negotiations with media companies as he is at driving his teams to develop new cloud-based services.

"Eddy is genius, brilliant, thoughtful, and tough,” says Bob Bauman, president and CEO of Major League Baseball Advanced Media.

Could Cue’s thoughtfulness be part of the reason that within 24-hours of Forstall’s dismissal from the firm, Cue decided to delay release of iTunes? Might this delay simply be in order to check the iTunes 11 contributions emanating from Forstall’s team are truly ready?

On the radio

There’s another possibility: Apple radio. Or, to be more specific, iTunes music streaming services. It’s quite possible I’m jumping the gun here as we’ve expected Cupertino to fight back against Pandora and Spotify with services of this nature for a while. Recent reports confirm intensification in Apple’s discussions with major labels to offer such services.

Apple has intensified talks with major music labels to start an advertising supported streaming-radio competitor to Pandora by early next year, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations,” explained Bloomberg earlier this week. The news caused shares in Pandora to fall over 11 percentin a day.

I know from watching how the company deals with those notoriously loose-lipped majors that discussions frequently intensify just before a service is launched: in an attempt to maintain a little secrecy, Apple likes to close deals with US majors just before a US launch. It did the same with the iTunes Store.

That’s why it’s interesting to take a look at the second paragraph of the Bloomberg story:
“Discussions are centered in part around how to share ad revenue and a deal could be reached by mid-November, with Apple starting service in the first three months of 2013, said the people, who sought anonymity because talks are in progress.”
Why wait till after Christmas?

After all, Apple has a raft of newly-introduced mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, iPod touch) all of which are hungry for music. There’s no doubt that iTunes music streaming would make these products even more interesting across the Holiday season.

Doubling down on secrecy

Customarily such services would be introduced via a software patch to iTunes, but with iOS devices likely to be given access to the service, it’s possible the company may need direct input from the iOS team.

Apple’s statement on the delay also hints at iCloud (inevitably part of its music streaming service design), noting iTunes 11’s “seamless integration” with the service.

Apple’s iTunes 11 press release also notes the relationship between iCloud and iOS:

“With iCloud integration, your music, movie and TV purchases made on any of your iOS devices or computers is conveniently displayed in your iTunes library on your Mac or PC, available anytime you want them.”

“The new iTunes works seamlessly with iCloud, always keeping your entire library at your fingertips, and we’re adding great new features that make listening to your music more fun,” said Cue in that release.

Features scheduled for iTunes 11 include:
  • A cleaner interface
  • iCloud integraion
  • Redesigned iTunes, iBookstore and App Store
  • Full-window interface
  • New library view, including expandable album view
  • All new mini player
  • Song previews increase to 90 seconds
In a sense the possibility the company at last intends leveraging its acquisition doesn’t matter so much.

That’s because in taking the decision to delay the release the company is reassuring its customers, and itself, that it won’t in future ship software services until they are ready.

In addition to this, the company must have grown pretty sick of seeing its pre-release developer builds of its software being disassembled and pored through for hints about future products and services. While the company’s beta software is protected by Non Disclosure Agreements, Apple hasn’t yet begun enforcing the secrecy clause against bloggers with a developer account. Introduction of support for iTunes Music streaming within iOS devices will certainly require new code, as will iTunes.

It’s interesting that despite the internal politics which have clearly taken place within the company recently, within one year of the death of founder and CEO, Steve Jobs, Apple’s teams have updated and upgraded almost every product; and delivered a completely new product line in the iPad mini.

One year on and Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, is beginning to empower his team to take tough decisions they can be proud of, including the decision not to ship something until it is ready, and not to call something "excellent" when it isn't.

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