updated 07:30 pm EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
Options said to be in early stages, may not come to fruition
About 12 years, Apple brought out its second-generation iPod and made it compatible with Windows, where it had previously been a Mac-only product. A year later, iTunes came to Windows in a move that ensured the software's dominance in the then still-niche MP3 player market. According to music trade magazine Billboard, Apple may again be considering "sleeping with the enemy" in the form of an iTunes app for Android, and is also said to be considering expanding its streaming-music options.
The iPhone maker is said to be considering setting up a pure subscription-based streaming service that might offer as much as the full iTunes catalog of songs for a flat monthly fee, similar to what Spotify offers. Currently, iTunes Radio offers a free but ad-supported service where listeners can customize stations (similar to Pandora) and listen to curated stations (mostly created by celebrities).
If users opt for a $25 per year iTunes Match cloud-locker add-on, they also get iTunes Radio ad-free. After only six months of existence, iTunes Radio is already the third most-popular streaming music "radio" service in the US, already beating Spotify and all other competitors apart from Pandora and ClearChannel's IHeartRadio by a significant margin -- at last polling, it was very close to taking second place away from IHeartRadio. The company is said, however, to have acknowledged Spotify's main selling point -- a large library of songs available on demand across all devices, with no pressure to buy individual songs or albums, for a flat fee of around $10 a month.
While iTunes has a larger library of songs to draw from than Spotify, its streaming radio service is only available in the US and Australia (with, it is said, other countries coming soon). Spotify's audience, though smaller, is drawn from around much of the industrialized world. Were Apple to offer a pure subscription service, it would beat Spotify on the size of its catalog (iTunes has around 26 million songs, while Spotify has a much more limited US library than it does in some other countries, where it can offer up to 20 million songs), but would likely have to pay more in royalties, since the proposed service might require a renegotiation of Apple's licensing terms.
Former CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs famously nixed both the idea of subscription streaming music (saying "people don't want to rent their music, the want to own it") and of ever porting iTunes apps to Android -- saying there was "no advantage" to putting the service on Android "except to make [Android] users happy ... and I don't want to make Android users happy." While Jobs' point about having to pay indefinitely for music remains valid -- and iTunes Match is a far-less-expensive option to address the allure of having access to a library far in excess of the device's capacity -- Spotify markets itself on the social aspect of listening to music among friends, as well as encouraging discovery by having access to music beyond the subscriber's normal tastes.
Ironically, streaming music services appear to be driving down sales of albums and individual song files. Apple has recently been reported to be negotiating for more album exclusives and other promotions to bolster album and single sales, and often streams new albums for a short period before official release. Nielsen SoundScan has reported that digital album sales were down 13 percent for the first eight weeks of 2014, while individual track sales were down 11 percent in the same period.