Steve Jobs said yesterday that Apple’s (s aapl) model with iOS isn’t closed; it’s “integrated.” Well, the integrated model faces a major test close on the heels of having been officially named: Will it, or can it, approve an iTunes competitor for sale in the App Store?
U.K.-based digital music firm 7digital, which was the first to offer DRM-free content from all four major labels, has let it be known that an iPhone app for its service is currently awaiting Apple’s approval. Android’s (s goog) “fragmented” model saw the introduction of the app last month. It’s also currently available for BlackBerry (s rimm).
The 7digital app is a complete replacement for iTunes and the built-in Apple iPod app for iOS devices. It allows you to purchase and download music, and to sync wirelessly with your computer, something iTunes doesn’t even offer yet. There’s no monthly subscription fee, unlike other .MP3 stores on the web, and you get high quality tracks (up to 320kbps). 7digital also has plans to introduce streaming services in the future.
Is Apple ready for this? Even six months ago, the answer would’ve been a definitive and resounding “No.” But Apple’s business has changed so dramatically in the last year that its priorities may have shifted enough to let 7digital through. It becomes a question of which it values more: having attractive, useful software available for iOS, or protecting its interests with regards to the iTunes music store.
It’s worth noting that music wasn’t on the agenda yesterday afternoon during the Apple conference call. And Pandora and Spotify (in the U.K.) both made it into the App Store despite presenting obvious competition for Apple’s own iTunes. Cupertino could be relaxing its grip on that market, realizing that allowing a competitive distribution model for music within the App Store will cost them less than revamping iTunes for the inevitable streaming revolution, and be more appealing to users.
I don’t think the time is quite ripe yet for 7digital to make it through, though. For one, the app is markedly different from Pandora and Spotify. You don’t stream content, you download it, directly to your device. That means it competes directly with the iTunes model. And secondly, 7digital promises wireless syncing. I think that’s a feather Apple’s reserving for its own cap, as indicated by the rejection of the Wi-Fi Sync app that eventually made its way to Cydia on jailbroken devices. No, for now, iOS will remain a town with only one major music hall.
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