Tin Ear

Last week, I said that Apple was giving away U2’s new album Sounds of Innocence, but noted that it had yet to show up in iTunes several hours later.

Now we know why it took hours to make it available: Apple didn’t put the tracks in iTunes with a price of $0.00, as they routinely do for giveaways. Instead, they actually sold the music to each of their approximately half a billion customers.

The move was billed, of course, as being customer-friendly: why should those half-billion customers have to search for the gift and go to the trouble of clicking the “Free” button?

Very nice of Apple, but as you may have heard, there are a lot of people out there who apparently hate U2 with a passion. Over the past week, quite a large cottage industry has developed in ways to get the offending music off of one’s computers and iGadgets. Apparently it isn’t as easy as one might hope to lose one’s Innocence, and Apple has been forced to put up a special help page to allow iTunes users to despoil their collections.

On one hand, I have trouble sympathizing with those who are upset. Dudes, it’s free music. Take a listen; maybe you’ll like it. If not, turn it off and don’t play it again. The worst case scenario is it costs you 48 minutes you’ll never get back. At the Federal minimum wage, that’s $5.80. Heck, tell you what: send me $5.22 and I’ll listen to Sounds of Innocence for you. That’s a 10% discount!

On the other hand, I also understand why people feel violated. By pushing U2 into everyone’s iTunes libraries, Apple has rather graphically reminded their customers who really controls “their” music. Under the circumstances, the album’s title reaches a level of irony only surpassed by Amazon’s removal of 1984 from their customers’ Kindle libraries*. Forcing the album into customers’ collections so that U2 can advertise “Half a billion served” does seem like a tactic better suited to burgers than music.

* Yes, the particular edition of “1984” was unlicensed and shouldn’t have been available for sale in the first place, but that’s beside the point here–we’re talking about the demonstration of just who controls the customers’ collection.

Apple has long been criticized for running a “walled garden” in which each of their gadgets and programs are designed first and foremost to work best with their other gadgets and programs, but it’s been a highly successful strategy. Their latest moves, assuming everyone wants U2’s album, requiring customers who want an Apple Watch to purchase a recent iPhone, and killing off the last non-iOS iPod, indicate that Apple is now putting a roof on that walled garden to prevent any escapes. “Think Different” is long-dead and there’s clearly no more room at Apple for anyone who wants to march to a different drummer. Casts a whole new light on the famous “1984” Mac ad, doesn’t it?