Apple Owners Rejoice! Free Apps Are on the Way

Since spearheading the Android App Market and launching the Kindle Fire, Amazon has seemingly been on a mission to promote themselves as the kinder, gentler Apple alternative. While stopping shy of ever viciously calling out their rival, the message is clear that they believe themselves to be more of a service “of the people” than their counterpart. One of the ways they have done this is by offering a Free App of the Day service that allows its users to snag a free download of an app selected by Amazon. Ranging from games to useful services, it’s a must have feature that, until now, has provided Android owners with another feature to rub in the face of the iMasses.

I say “until now” because it looks like the empire has caught on to the rebel plans.

Yes, its happy days again Apple owners. Apple is now offering its own free app service, only this one will be a free app of the week and not of the day. The good news is that the first app of this service is the brilliant and addictive “Cut The Rope: Experiments“ game, which went from “should be essential” to “no conceivable reason not to download” courtesy of the new promotion. Not content to just borrow from one rival, though, Apple has also introduced an “Editor’s Choice” feature (seemingly a replacement for their staff picks and game of the week features) that highlights the newest and best apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The initial showcases are Facebook Camera, “Extreme Skater,” “Air Mail” and Sketchbook Ink.

Of course, all jokes about theft are actually jokes. Developers have been running their own free app promotions since the start of the market, and independent sites have been offering the same, as well as highlighting the best new apps for the same period of time. In truth it is refreshing to see Apple offer these services on their own, and considering that the Apple app market is richer and fuller than that of its rivals, even an app a week instead of one a day is an astoundingly good deal that should produce something of must have quality each outing.

Although it should be noted that the “App of the Week” feature hasn’t officially been confirmed as a permanent addition. However since they’ve launched a new Twitter tag for it, not to mention those large banners for the service on their site, things look good. It’s going to be interesting to see if Apple looks at the success of this initial offering to judge if it will continue in the future. It’ll be interesting because we can’t know if Apple will look at giving away lots of free merchandise as a positive marketing ploy, or the root of all known evil.

Again, joking.

iTunes Instant delivers instant search results

iTunes Instant

It’s no secret that iTunes is one of the more bloated pieces of software in use by millions of people every day. Ever tried to find an album or song quickly in the iTunes store? I’m pretty sure that’s some sort of oxymoron.

A 15-year-old put together a little web service he’s calling iTunes Instant, which is just about what it sounds like. You type in your search and get treated to instant results, replete with links to pull up each result in iTunes.

Just buy it, Apple. Please.

New AppleTV brings limited rentals, Netflix

Apple TVI want to love AppleTV, I really do. But Apple refuses to make it into a truly compelling peripheral. This week’s update was much needed – prior to this point the little TV box was completely forgettable. By adding Netflix support and focusing on rentals vs. purchases, I think Apple’s done a smart thing, but it’s only halfway there.

The biggest news is the new access to content. Streaming movie rentals is great, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see Netflix offer this as part of a premium service over the course of the next year. TV rentals is great, but it’s only Fox and ABC for now (granted, others will probably get on board quickly) and there’s no mention of how soon after air we’ll get these. It’s likely a short window, but imagine what Apple could have if these were available the instant they aired. That would be something to get excited about, something that would take a lot of money away from cable providers and put it directly in Apple’s pocket.

Ever since I first used a streaming service, I’ve wanted Big Cable to die. I don’t use my TV because I have so many more options when I watch on my computer. I would love it if someone could provide all of those options, all in one place, all for one reasonable price. Would I pay $1 an episode if I could watch the shows I care about live? Of course I would. Cable companies seem to operate under the idea, though, that you should charge one customer for as many things as he might possibly be willing to pay for, instead of providing a service that’s so good that your one customer tells every single person he knows.

iOS 4 available now for download

If you haven’t plugged your iPhone into your computer recently, you might want to do so. iOS 4 is now available as a free download through iTunes.

Before downloading, make sure you transfer any purchases you may have made from your phone to your computer and run a manual backup. From there, it’s an easy install. iOS 4 brings some nice new features, including the ability to multitask, which is pretty fantastic. You can also now use custom backgrounds, create folders, have up to 5x digital zoom in the camera app, and access the new mail app, which includes threading, all among the other features.

The best part of all of this is that the update is free.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Digital content providers team up to fight piracy

Picture 4Amazon, Apple, Myspace, Spotify, and a couple other digital content providers have grouped up to form Music Matters, an organization aimed at turning pirates into paying customers. I hate to criticize this movement because I definitely think it’s important to support the artists you love, but it’s just so hard to take the companies that hawk those digital wares too seriously. If Jack White were imploring me to please buy his albums I would be much more inclined to do it (except that Deadweather album, ugh).

The best part of the organization is a stamp that participating sites can post to remind customers that the site will pay the artists for the music you purchase. Oh wait, they’re required by law to pay artists whose music the sites have sold.

The site tries to grab your indie nerve with that pencil script seen on the cover of every Michael Cera movie. You can watch custom videos from a few bands as well. Other than that, I’m not entirely sure why the site exists.

Music Matters

Apple’s real iPad focus: TV

Steven Colbert with an iPad.The iPad may have been sold to the world as the device that will save publishing, but Apple has shown its real focus now that we’re just weeks away from release. According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple put the publishing content on the “backburner in favor of focusing on other content,” like a subscription-based television service.

Apple wants to make a sort of “best of TV” bundle available for a subscription fee, as well as offering episodic downloads for a dollar. Content providers have been wary of making any deals, likely because they’re afraid of getting burned like the music industry. Now that we’re years into the digital music business we can see that things haven’t been all bad for the labels, but there are probably some things they wouldn’t have agreed to if given the chance again.

It’s looking unlikely that we’ll see anything by the time the iPad launches, which leaves Apple in a position it knows well – using sales figures to produce contracts. The iPad has already had some nice presale figures. Once version 2.0 rolls out you can bet we’ll see more widespread adoption.

What happened to iTunes LP?

iTunes LP content.Remember six months ago when Apple held an iTunes event just to announce iTunes LP, the premium content service that was supposed to revive the album? According to most reports, nobody’s buying LP. Not a person. It’s no surprise, really. The target audience is a bunch of audiophiles who likely buy physical media for quality’s sake and that unmistakeable pretense of being one of the remaining few to own that physical media. Your average iTunes customer just doesn’t care that much.

Granted, there are only 29 options if you want to buy LP content, so it’s not like the format has any serious support behind it. But why was LP created in the first place? Was it something the fans were really clamoring for or was it something the labels wanted so they could try to squeeze a little more money out of digital content. I’m gonna go with that second one.

Apple to drop TV shows to $1

iTunes TV programming.Currently if you want to watch a TV show from iTunes you’ll be paying two bucks per show. That’s just the standard def content – high def will run you an extra dollar per episode. Apple may be ready to change that, though, dropping the price of television content to just a dollar per episode with the potential for bundled services down the line.

The news comes courtesy of the Financial Times, which claims that the price change will come at the end of April to coincide with the iPad launch. The pricing shift would include a “best of TV” subscription service for $30/month that would potentially replace your cable bill. Oddly enough, it’s Apple that has left the Apple TV out of the discussion and not the media. Apparently the company is concerned with scaring content providers away from the lower prices once they realize that content could be viewed on full-size television screens.

Source: Gizmodo

Digital music price flexibility resulted in slower sales

iTunes sales slow with price flexibility.Warner Music Group delivered some interesting news in the wake of the Macmillan/Amazon standoff. When Warner was finally given pricing flexibility for its iTunes content last April it kicked off a slow decline in sales growth.

As Warner put things, year to year “digital track equivalent album unit growth” was down from 10 percent in the September quarter to just 5 percent for the December quarter. We can still blame the recession in part, but the decline didn’t begin until prices went up. As Peter Kafka at AllThingsD notes, the digital music business is much more mature than the ebook industry. Also, despite the decline in sales growth, Warner CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. said the change has been a net positive for his company.

Despite the warnings for publishers in this news, I still think the ebook industry is young enough to pull of the price increase without much negative impact.

Source: AllThingsD

iTunes Preview extends to iPhone apps

Apple iTunes 9.In November of last year Apple released a new iTunes feature called iTunes Preview. The service allowed users to preview the music available in the iTunes store without launching or even installing the iTunes software. It was a nice move, long overdue, and it’s now been extended to include iPhone apps.

Basically, any time you click an iTunes link for an app, your browser will redirect to a page that contains the standard iTunes information. You get screenshots from the application along with reviews, pricing, descriptions and ratings. From there you can click to view the app in iTunes and go through your standard download process.

I’m just glad I can’t be fooled into clicking those damn links anymore. It was so infuriating to be on a site and accidentally hit a link on my touchpad only to have iTunes blow up and start loading the app store.