Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

iTunes at 10

Apple’s retail store enters its second decade with many questioning where the company goes next

Mon, Apr 29, 2013, 09:27


It will not have escaped your attention that Apple’s iTunes store turned 10 at the weekend. There’s been a raft of pieces to mark the occasion, ranging from the largely positive to the negative, with the latter articles concentrating as much on Apple’s recent share price drop and lack of anything new to flog to the Apple fans as anything else.

But it’s worth going back a decade to iTunes’ arrival on the scene and to see how the 99-cent-per-tune store built a business sector from nothing. Before iTunes came along, there was no significant means of legally buying music online. There were a few attempts at turning the Napster generation onto various services but none of them stuck.

As we’ve noted before, Apple’s Steve Jobs was largely welcomed by the record industry and seen as the white knight in a black poloneck who would save their skins when he came along with his iTunes plan. Of course, as we now know only too well, Jobs’ real aim was to flog Apple products and the record industry, smart men all, didn’t realise this for ages. They did the deal, gave Jobs the keys to their sweetshops and, well, the rest is history.

iTunes gave Jobs the means to build a retail juggernaut which is now a go-to choice for millions when it comes to online music, films, apps and books. iTunes was a simple, easy-to-use platform and people voted for it with their credit cards. There have been some challengers over the last 10 years – though not SpiralFrog – but iTunes continues to lead the pack.

However, that’s not enough. What I admire about the tech business is its restlessness and the need to constantly innovate. No-one takes anything for granted. After a decade when iTunes has been cock of the walk and has trousered huge revenue from flogging entertainment files, questions are now being asked about what comes next.

Given that consumers are moving to streaming rather than downloading, you can immediately see both a huge potential dip in revenues and a huge market in the gap for Apple given its huge consumer base. When – not if – Apple launches a streaming service of some ilk, it has the potential to take a serious chunk of both the existing business which Spotify have captured and bring new users, who trust Apple because of their experience with their products to date, into the streaming fold.

All of this comes from Apple working with what it currently has. What many analysts are speculating about is where the next Apple gizmo will come from. You may think that an iWatch is not what you need at any price, but I bet many current iPad owners said the same thing when it was first launched. Apple’s gadgets have had a way in the last decade of creating a market which didn’t exist and the company has profited hugely from such prescience. Simply tweaking what they already flog like a new version of the iPhone or an even smaller iPad doesn’t create the same huge potential reveue as a brand new product.

The need to produce such a winner means pressure for Jobs’ successor Tim Cook, who increasingly reminds you of someone who took over from a long-running and hugely successful football manager just as the slump set in. He may lack the charisma which Jobs brought to his gig as evangalist, but he also lacks the products which helped Jobs be seen in that light again and again and again. Perhaps, as a legacy buzz, he should take Jean-Louis Gassée’s advice and buy Intel.

All of which brings you back to iTunes. It does today what it did 10 years ago: sells you stuff to play on (hopefully) your Apple products, which means more kerching for the company. Many may bemoan certain features which haven’t aged well or the overall bulky aspects of the service, but that’s what you get with a shop which is selling you stuff. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel by reimagining iTunes as something else (have Amazon, for instance, ever tried to be anything other than what they are?), Cook and his troops will be concentrating on the next leap forward. A decade on, we wager, iTunes will still exist in some form or another and will still be flogging you stuff.