Is a revolution coming to Apple's iTunes Tuesday?
According to the Wall Street Journal, the music iTunes users having long been waiting for will finally arrive: the treasured Beatles' catalogue.
Citing anonymous sources close to the agreement, the Journal said Apple plans to announce Tuesday morning that it will start carrying the Beatles' music.
In a rare move, the consumer technology company today replaced the entire front page of its website with the message: "Tomorrow is just another day. That you'll never forget. Check back here tomorrow for an exciting message from iTunes."
If the Journal's report is true, the addition of the Beatles' music to iTunes could be a symbolic milestone for Apple, said Tim Bajarin, an analyst with the Silicon Valley-based technology firm Creative Strategies.
"Assuming that it is real, it is a very significant point in music's history given the fact that the Beatles have for the last 15 years, held back on digital rights," he said. "This gives Apple a rather interesting opportunity to bring the Beatles to a very large audience; to a direct digital audience."
Since the message hit the Web this morning, bloggers and analysts alike have been bubbling over with speculation about what Tuesday's announcement will bring.
Analyst: Cloud-Based iTunes Could Be Unveiled
"Apple's promising a lot here -- a "day we'll never forget" -- but they are doing so in a really unorthodox way," John Brownlee of the blog Cult of Mac said. "They're not throwing a special event, and they are announcing it before the opening of business on the West Coast, at a time which usually coincides with the weekly shuttering of the Apple Store."
His best guess is a subscription plan, similar to the one Microsoft offers its customers with its Zune Pass. Such an option would give subscribers a fixed number of downloads a month but wouldn't require Apple to release a new version of iTunes.
But Gene Munster, an Apple analyst with securities firm Piper Jaffray, said he does not expect the company to introduce a music subscription service. Instead, he said, a more likely announcement is a cloud-based iTunes service.
As evidence, Munster pointed to a data center in Maiden, N.C., recently developed by Apple that could be the hub for the new service. The data center, which is slated to be completed by the end of 2010, could let the company store users' music in the so-called cloud, rather than their iPods or computers, and then stream them to various devices.
With Apple's growing family of connected devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV and Macs), it only makes sense that Apple would deliver a cloud-based media service to leverage its competitive advantage in the space: devices," Munster wrote in a note to clients.
"As part of this, the new Apple TV with limited storage, a lower price, and a focus on accessing content over the internet would fit in nicely. We see this device, and the potential iTunes cloud-based service, as a stepping stone for an all-in-one, connected Apple television."
Bloggers, Analysts Debate Apple's iTunes Surprise
Peter Kafka of the Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital blog, however, doesn't expect Apple to announce either a cloud-based service or a subscription plan Tuesday.
"It's easy to understand why Apple might head in that direction: Generally, because it seems inevitable and because Google has been talking about doing something similar," he wrote. "And, specifically, because Apple has that shiny new North Carolina data center to play with."
But he went on to say that his sources in the music industry aren't aware of any new deals between Apple and big music labels. That makes it unlikely that Apple is on the verge of rolling out a new subscription service or cloud-based approach, he said.
He said it's possible Apple could forego the rights deals needed for a subscription service of cloud-based approach, but emphasized that it's unlikely.
"So unless Apple wants to make them go ballistic?and freak out the movie and TV studios, the folks that Steve Jobs really wants to court, it's hard to see Apple announcing a service without signed paperwork," he said.
Apple Announcement Likely Content-Related
Creative Strategies' Bajarin, said that from the way the online message is worded, he thinks the announcement is content related.
"Given the way it's worded, it's pretty much a sure bet that it's somehow related to a content announcement," he said. "That could be anything from a new major band to a subscription service to again who knows."
Apple's acquisition earlier this year of the cloud-based music service Lala means that a cloud-based iTunes is on its way, Bajarin said, but industry insiders don't expect that announcement until after the first of the year.
But, he emphasized, considering Apple's tendency to surprise, the company might have anything in store for Tuesday's announcement.
"As they say, 'Stay tuned,'" he said.