I was at a Starbucks last weekend, and I grabbed one of those "Pick of the Week" cards, one for Jeremy Piven's new show. I felt a momentary flutter of excitement — sweet, free TV episode! In HD! But then I realized that I would have to download some huge file, and even then, I could only watch the show on the device I downloaded it to.
The concept suddenly seemed awkward ... antiquated, even.
And if I liked what I saw? I could pay Apple $2.99 per episode for the privilege of downloading more huge files. As a paying subscriber of Netflix and Amazon Prime — not to mention cable TV — my final reaction was, "No thanks."
(If you want my free download, the code is YY3FTKPH3W4F — it'll only work once, so first come, first served. If you missed that chance, you can also watch the first episode on your iPhone or iPad for free ... on the PBS app.)
The iTunes situation only gets worse with music. In a world where Pandora streaming radio is free and Spotify's $9.99-per-month anywhere music-on-demand service is a crazy good deal, why would anybody buy an album?
Take it from a music and movie lover who has probably spent far more money than you on iTunes: It's over! There are few reasons to pay for specific music and video files — and still fewer reasons to download them to your hard drive and sit on them like some gigabyte-greedy dragon.
Apple will be able to milk online music sales for a while, but Netflix, Amazon and other streaming video services are already taking customers away from iTunes and its rent-or-buy download model. If Apple doesn't announce a plan at its annual Worldwide Developer Conference, it risks getting shoved aside in the digital media realm like it's being shoved aside in the smartphone business.
There is hope for Apple fans: CNet is reporting that the company is "close to striking a streaming deal with two of the major music labels" for a service that resembles Pandora. It might have extra features, like the ability to jump back to the beginning of a song, or buy the track you are listening to. This won't bring back those who have already gone to Spotify, but it's a step in the direction Apple needs to go, music-wise.
As for video, what Apple should do is revisit its abandoned streaming TV approach, and allow people who purchased movies to stream them from any registered iDevice. (At the moment, if I want to watch "The Return of the King" — which I "own" on iTunes — I have to commit to a 4.1GB download. Ugh.)
I say this is what Apple should do. What Apple probably will do (which is fine with me but not as great for Apple) is open Apple TV to more apps like Spotify and Amazon Video on Demand. They're already available on iPad, iPhone and, of course, Macs, so it only makes sense. If Apple doesn't mind me spending money on other services, provided I use them on Apple hardware, I'm OK with that. But sooner or later, all of those services will work equally well on an HTC phone or a Samsung tablet, and then what?
Don't give away your store, Apple. It's time to evolve.