By now, you’ll have seen the news. U2 didn’t just close Apple’s latest press launch with a live performance last night: they announced that their new album was not only finished, but instantly available on iTunes as a free download.
Oh, and exclusive to the store – plus Beats Music and iTunes Radio – until 13 October. The freebie is available in 119 countries, with Apple CEO Tim Cook suggesting that the promotion’s notional reach is 500m people. Beyoncé has been well and truly out-Beyoncéd.
Bono and Cook bantered on-stage about the ‘Songs of Innocence’ album being not free, but paid for by Apple. Naturally, the commercial terms of the deal remain a secret for now.
The obvious comparison is Jay-Z’s $5m Samsung giveaway in 2013, but the U2/Apple promotion is structured differently: a lump sum paid to UMG and the band by Apple according to the Wall Street Journal, rather than a wholesale price per album download.
Instant reactions? U2 fans with iTunes accounts will be delighted, although fans having to figure out how to get those files on to Android smartphones may be complaining in the days ahead.
Meanwhile, non-fans may snark about the giveaway in the context of declining sales across U2’s last few albums, although the sheer scale of the deal – complete with the album’s first single soundtracking TV ads for Apple’s new products – should sink suggestions that it’s a desperate career move on the band’s part.
Music reduced to a cog in Apple’s efforts to lock people into its iTunes / iOS ecosystem? It’s not a new notion, and nor is the sense that Apple is prepared to spend big in order to secure big stars in the coming battle of exclusives with Spotify and other streaming services.
Talking of them, the press event in Cupertino was notable for its lack of Beats Music news. There was no announcement of a global rollout for the streaming service, and no mention of plans to bundle it with Apple’s new iPhone models. That said, the presence of a Beats Music icon on the homescreen of at least some of the demonstration devices hinted that preloading remains a possibility.
Yes, new devices. Apple unveiled two larger-screened smartphones: the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. They’re faster, slightly slimmer, with better cameras and – in their 4.7 and 5.5-inch screens, an answer to the growing demand for ‘phablets’.
And then there was the Apple Watch (note: not iWatch) with its multiple configurations and straps, its customisable faces, and its fitness-tracking features. Both devices use the company’s new Apple Pay wireless payments system too, to buy products in the real world by tapping a payment terminal. The new iPhones go on sale on 19 September, but the Watch won’t be out until 2015.
Still, music at least sprang the biggest surprise of the night. Here was the back-row view of Bono and co performing their new single (which will also be used for the upcoming ad campaign):