Juicy screenshots purporting to show new features in the next version of iTunes popped up online Tuesday morning and are generating a lot of excitement. But here's the thing: they're probably fake.
The three images, which show Facebook, Last.fm, and Twitter integrated directly into iTunes, came from a Chinese discussion forum, conveniently after several days of rumors bouncing around about everything from Blu-ray to Twitter making an appearance in iTunes 9 later this year. The images mainly show what it would look like if Last.fm's online music streaming and recommendation service were built into Apple's music software. It appears under a tab on the left menu bar called "Social." And then at the bottom of the iTunes window, there are two small icons, one the familiar blue 'f' of Facebook, and the powdery blue lowercase 't' of Twitter.
Sure, the idea of iTunes including integration directly with some of social networking's most promising brands is a nice thought, as blogs like Boy Genius Report have excitedly reported.
But the entire proposition seems out of character for Apple, and is leading us to think we won't see these features in iTunes 9 when it is released. Here's why:
First, Facebook already launched Facebook Connect for iPhoto earlier this year. Getting that partnership in place was a big deal for Facebook. But the implementation is very subtle. The fuzzy screenshots show a slightly confusing implementation, at least when it comes to the visual organization, with the tiny (and misaligned) Facebook icon on the bottom of the iTunes window. And more importantly, people in a position to be familiar with the situation suggest to CNET that Facebook-iTunes hooking up is unlikely, at least for now.
Second, Apple doesn't just partner with anybody. When it does link up with other companies, they're established brands: think Motorola, Nike, U2, AT&T, Google, and Microsoft. Twitter does not appear at the moment to fit that bill. While it might be the word on the lips of celebrities and journalists, Twitter is a tiny San Francisco outfit that hasn't shown it knows how to turn a profit, and one whose service isn't very reliable. Not exactly a rock-solid partner for a company like Apple that prides itself on offering products that "just work." Plus, Twitter seems a little trendy for Apple, a company that rarely races ahead with the latest technological obsession--see its stance on Blu-ray for the past few years as an example.
Last.fm (also owned by CNET News publisher CBS Interactive) is far from being an established brand. It's simply one of many streaming music services available on the Web. And the inclusion in iTunes seems contrary to Apple's purposes. The point of iTunes is to sell you music, not let you listen to songs for free whenever you want. And the other useful features Last.fm offers aren't new to iTunes: there are already plug-ins, like the one from iLike, that connect to your iTunes account, analyze your library, find music you'll like, direct you to concerts you may want to attend, and provide artist info--all things Last.fm does, too.
And finally, cosmetically, the images just don't look all that convincing. Comparing the implementation in iPhoto and the two little logos of Facebook and Twitter below, the Facebook logo in the screenshots just doesn't look right. The blog Pocket-lint UK talked to some image experts, who point out that many of the pictured logos show a lot of imperfections: including the "9" in relation to the "iTunes," and other clues that point to a Photoshop job.
CNET News' Caroline McCarthy contributed to this report.