Having used Spotify a bit, I can definitely see how some people think it could potentially replace iTunes completely. It basically acts like an iTunes that has access to millions of songs at no additional cost (and, yes, it's all licensed and legal). The songs are streamed, but you almost never notice it. It really does feel just like iTunes, while also having "Pandora-like" features for creating specialized stations or sharing others' playlists. Unfortunately, it's only available in the UK for now, though the rumor is it will be available in the US before the end of the year. However, where things could get really impressive is with Spotify's mobile app. For a few months, there's been a YouTube video of Spotify Mobile on Android:
The demo highlights the fact that you can sync any playlist for "offline" play, solving the biggest question about weak mobile signals on the go, or how you use it on a plane or somewhere without wireless access. With offline syncing, it's basically everything that an iPod can do -- with access to 6 million songs without having to pay for each individual song. But, of course, Android is still a limited platform. The big fish these days is the iPhone App Store, and Spotify has now submitted an iPhone app for approval, which raises all sorts of questions. With Apple's history of rather arbitrary rejections -- including ones for things Apple has deemed "competitive" -- will it block Spotify as a rather direct competitor to iTunes? That would be very unfortunate, and again demonstrate the risk of a closed platform.
That said, the initial reviews of the iPhone app seem quite strong. Eliot Van Buskirk at Wired loves the syncing feature, and warns that "you'd have to pry it out of my cold, dead iPhone before I'll delete it from my phone." Meanwhile Music Ally points out that Spotify has uploaded a video of the iPhone app as well:
It really does look pretty slick. So now the ball's in Apple's court. I have no idea if Spotify can survive as a business (and I suspect that the royalty rates the music industry wants will make that difficult), but it is great to see more innovation in the space. Now we get to see how Apple feels about that sort of innovation.
The near total arbitrariness of Apple's iPhone morality police continues... We've already noted how odd it is that certain apps got rejected -- such as an eBook reader that users might, possibly be able to read the Kama Sutra with, because it provided access to the public domain library at Project Gutenberg. Never mind the fact that the same content could be accessed easily via a browser -- such as the included Safari browser on the iPhone. However, other apps seem to get through with no problem. Dave Title notes that Apple apparently had no problem with a Suicide Girls' app that allowed users to "strip" women down to their underwear simply by flipping the phone. It's a silly meaningless app (and doesn't contain any actual nudity), but it does make you wonder. Why is one app potentially harmful according to Apple's morality police, while the other is perfectly fine?
It's pretty clear that Apple's policies covering what iPhone applications are acceptable for its App Store are pretty absurd and arbitrary. The company has repeatedly blocked applications that could allow users to access content Apple deems "objectionable" -- like an e-book reader that can display the Kama Sutra, among thousands of other books -- when that same content is accessible through the iPhone's built-in web browser or other applications. This rejection process led the Electronic Frontier Foundation to ask the Copyright Office to grant a DMCA exemption covering the jailbreaking of iPhones, so they could be used with any app the user wanted instead of just Apple-approved ones, as well as other phone unlocking techniques. Apple, of course, responded by saying that jailbreaking was copyright infringment.
The company may have now unwittingly given a little more juice to the EFF's claims that the approval process is arbitrary, censorial and anti-competitive, though, by rejecting an application that displays the EFF's RSS feed. Not because they dislike the EFF (ostensibly), but because it contained "objectionable content" in the form of a blog post that linked to a YouTube video containing the f-word in a subtitle. Once again, this content is available elsewhere on the iPhone, namely via the web browser and YouTube app pre-installed on the device, reinforcing the asinine nature of the rejection. Whether this will help the EFF's case with the Copyright Office -- or help change Apple's policy -- remains to be seen. But for now, it still looks like Apple's app rejection process is a digital equivalent of a "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone" sign.
Apple's double standards in deciding which iPhone apps to reject have hit plenty of developers. Apparently it's fine to access any sort of content through the device's web browser, but if you have an app that accesses anything Apple deems objectionable, it's obscene and therefore blocked. The latest rejection along these lines is of an e-book reader which lets people download and read books from Project Gutenberg, a trove of digitized public-domain works. One book in its collection is the ancient Indian sex guide The Kama Sutra; in Apple's eyes, the ability to access the book from the app is grounds enough to reject it. The app is simply designed to access Project Gutenberg, and users select which titles they want to read. The developer says he wasn't even aware that The Kama Sutra was in Gutenberg's archives, but he also points out that several other e-book apps can access it, while, of course, it's also available on the web. The guy has now created a version of the app that specifically blocks access to The Kama Sutra, in hopes Apple will deem it acceptable. Fair enough, since he just wants to get the app out there. But it doesn't make Apple's arbitrary approval process -- and the stupidity it regularly displays -- any better. Update: And, once again, following a bit of press coverage, Apple caves. Still, it really shouldn't take press coverage to force Apple to fix situations like this.
Trent Reznor already did a wonderful job explaining Apple's hypocrisy in rejecting the NIN iPhone app because you could stream some content from The Downward Spiral, which Apple found objectionable... even though you could buy the same music via the iTunes store. However, reader Yakko Warner points us to a similar case as well. Apparently, Apple has rejected an app that pulls in newspaper content from many newspapers because some of that content includes the famous (or infamous) "Page 3" from The Sun, in the UK, which is normally filled with images of topless women. But, of course, anyone with an iPhone could just as easily use the web browser to surf right over to the website for Page 3 and see the exact same photos. So why is it suddenly "objectionable" when the very same functionality comes in a separate app?