As Apple geeks know, Macworld Expo 2009 ended on January 9th. With its finish there is a general feeling of disappointment. Usually there is enormous buildup to the Expo with wild predictions of new hardware and software. Last year we got the iPhone. I personally was hoping this year for an iPhaser. Apple has said that they will not be attending Macworld 2010 and Steve Jobs didn’t appear this year citing health problems (he will be stepping down for a short time). That may all be true, and I could understand being disappointed, yet I count this year’s Macworld a success.
The reason I count it a success is that Apple has finally announced major changes to their iTunes music service. Apple announced on January 6th that by the end of March all ten million of the songs in the iTunes library will be available DRM free. DRM, or Digital Rights Management, the insidious copyright protection measure implemented by several music distribution services, has previously prevented users from copying iTunes songs to other devices – to a non-Apple MP3 player, for instance, or buying an MP3 album for your mom and giving the files to her. All that is in the past now, though. iTunes users will even be able to retroactively remove the DRM protection from tracks that they already have for approximately 30 cents a piece.
Not only will iTunes music be DRM free, but it will now also be available in higher quality 256 kbps AAC format, and a three tier pricing scale will be implemented. Previously most downloads have been 128 kbps AAC, the lower number meaning a lower bit rate, and thus lower sound quality. The 256 kbps files will have an audio quality that will be, more or less, indistinguishable from the original recording. Audiophiles rejoice! As for the new pricing scheme, less popular and independent songs will now be available for 69 cents, standard tracks for 99 cents, and more popular music for $1.29.
These changes will be good for musicians and consumers, as well as Apple as a company. Users can now buy higher quality music without having to worry about being able to use it on all of their devices and musicians and labels will now have greater control over the price that their music sells for. Apple will also be able to compete more effectively against other services, such as Amazon.com, that are already offering DRM free downloads.
So while it looks like I may have to wait a few more years for an iPhaser that can download music, respond to voice commands, microwave my lunch and zap baddies all at the same time, I feel that Apple has taken an important step forward that will directly benefit the consumer. Good job Apple. And Steve, feel better soon.