Did you know that every app you buy in the App Store gets tracked in your iTunes account? That’s why you can download a paid app multiple times on your iDevices or desktop iTunes for free. But iTunes music doesn’t work this way. If you buy a song or album on your handset, that’s where it remains unless you sync it back to your computer (and possibly re-sync it to another device). And if that item gets accidentally deleted before you hook up that cable, then it’s gone for good.
So why can’t iTunes purchases be tracked and re-downloaded the same way App Store purchases are?
The answer to that can be pretty complicated. Everyone knows that DRM is a major issue, especially for music companies. They’re infamous for watching usage, ownership and piracy issues like crazy, so of course this will have a bearing on who can download what, where and for how much. This, among other things, has always been the big issue for distribution channels. But now, it seems we could be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
This week there has been some chatter in the blogosphere about Apple trying to tackle this very issue. According to Bloomberg sources, three people have claimed that the company is reportedly in talks with record labels, trying to hash out a deal by mid-2011. If these claims pan out, iTunes music would basically work the same way App Store purchases do: Buy a song once, then all your iDevices and instances of desktop iTunes that are tied to your account will have access to the same content, available as free re-downloads.
Why the change? After all, iTunes has worked this way since 2003, before there was even iOS or iOS devices. And this tactic worked just fine before – in fact, Apple was the top U.S. music retailer in 2008. But things are different now. These days, you’ve got resources like Pandora and Spotify really thrusting streaming music into the spotlight. The benefit of these services is not only that they’re free, but since nothing is stored locally, any device access those accounts anytime they want.
If Apple can successfully negotiate this deal, what it could mean for us end users in real, everyday terms are scenarios like these:
- You buy an album from iTunes that you want to listen to on a cross country flight. But in your rush to leave, you forget to sync your iPhone to the computer. So while you wait for boarding, you just hop on the free Wifi there. Your iTunes account remembers that you bought this and lets you download it again for free straight to your phone.
- You’re walking down the street when your iPhone hits the pavement, landing in a puddle. You run (not walk) to your nearest Apple store, but they tell you it’s DOA. Shock and despair gives way to panic, as you realize that you bought a lot of music recently, but haven’t synced your phone in weeks. The Genius gives you a paper bag to breath into and tells you to relax – you can just sign into your iTunes account and get them again for nothing.
There are plenty of other scenarios, but you get the idea. Of course, some people will still prefer streaming music, since it doesn’t take up any local storage space like music files do. And there are certainly others who actually prefer having songs stashed on their devices, but still don’t shop iTunes anyway, opting for retailers like Amazon or E-music instead. These consumers wouldn’t really benefit as much from this move.
Then again, a feature like this might give people a new reason to buy from iTunes. That right there is probably the whole reason Apple is looking into this.
What’s your opinion: If Apple manages to make this work, could you see yourself buying from iTunes more? Please deposit your comments in the section below.