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Apple posts tools for building TuneKit iTunes LPs and Extras

itunes extras

Daniel Eran Dilger

Apple has taken iTunes LP and Extras public, encouraging independent developers to begin work on interactive digital content for distribution in iTunes starting early next year. The new move signals a big move in taking on Adobe Flash, pushing the adoption of web standards, and creating an new business model for content that could impact how the company’s forthcoming tablet is sold and used.

Apple posts tools for building TuneKit iTunes LPs and Extras.

Fears that Apple would reserve iTunes LP solely for big music labels were alleviated by the debut of new templates and development guides to help anyone create the new digital interactive material. Apple is publishing the new information on its iTunes website, which notes that “Automatic, electronic submission of your iTunes LP or Extra is scheduled for the first quarter of 2010. Until then, the submission process is manual and limited. Please contact your label or studio rep for details and consideration. An existing iTunes contract is required. Your iTunes LP or iTunes Extras will be reviewed by the iTunes team for appropriateness of content and for technical quality.”

Using the supplied templates and how-to guide, anyone can create interactive content that can be played back by iTunes 9 or Apple TV, including links to listen to album songs and view lyrics, liner notes, photos and videos (such as artist interviews). The virtually identical iTunes Extras format is designed to present a movie with interactive menus, bonus content, and chapter navigation, similar to those supplied by DVD or Blu-ray authors.

itunes extras

As AppleInsider was first to report, Apple’s new interactive content formats are entirely open and based on web standards. Essentially, they’re self contained websites that use special scripts and links within iTunes to present content from the user’s library, along with bonus content, animated effects, and visualizations that can play along with the music. Apple refers to its JavaScript package of animations, controllers and other scripts as TuneKit.

The interactive content is linked to iTunes downloads, and is offered through iTunes to sweeten the deal when users buy albums or movies. Once Apple automates the upload process, any artist with an iTunes contract (or represented by a label associated with iTunes) will be able to submit the interactive content to enhance their music or video content. The iTunes LP and Extras formats can also link to other related material available for sale in iTunes.

ITLP and ITE files

The interactive packages are delivered as a folder of content which on Mac OS X appears to be a file (it can be opened up in the Finder by right clicking and choosing “show package contents”). Windows presents the package as a folder, as that platform has no concept of bundles (folders that look and act like a discrete file).

Within the iTunes LP or iTunes Extra bundle are folders of audio, video, and image files, as well as a standard index.html file that serves as its home page. The bundle also includes two files generated by the iTunes store during purchase: a standard jpeg or png file called iTunesArtwork that serves as an icon for the bundle, and iTunesMetadata.plist, which provides a listing of the bundle’s description, genre, artist and XID mappings that iTunes uses to associate the interactive content to other media in the user’s iTunes library.

A separate bundle file, manifest.xml, lists all the external content the bundle references, and describes its version number and platforms it is compatible with. This indicates that the format was designed to be extended in the future, with provisions to accommodate new types of devices. AppleInsider first predicted a tweak to make the content play on AppleTV, which was delivered within about a month of the format’s release as part of Apple TV 3.0. It is also expected that the new format will be adapted to allow playback on a new tablet device released in the first half of next year.

Views, Controllers and CSS: a clean format for interactivity

Also within the package are folders of views, which represent all of the HTML pages that may be presented. Each view has a corresponding controller, which includes all of the action elements of each page as well as the navigation and animated transitions that play between page views. A folder of CSS files define the positioning of elements in each view, including buttons, images, blocks of text, and interactive elements and animations.

The regimented format of the iTunes LP and Extras packages makes it easy to create content that is virtually unlimited creatively, but which is also easy to author (particularly for anyone with even a basic background in web development) and simple to display. The new formats compete directly against convoluted DVD authoring and poorly performing Adobe Flash content. Rather than presenting a similar default structure of folders, the Flash format allows developers to create messy animation files that require lots of processing power.

Flash loads all of the individual content files (graphics and videos) into a single binary file, complicating delivery and de-optimizing performance, and mixes together content, presentation, and code. While minor Flash animations run acceptably on powerful PCs, they don’t run well on platforms outside of Windows (the only platform Adobe has optimized its Flash runtime) and are particularly problematic on mobile devices where processor performance and battery life are very limited.

A business model for the web

Apple’s new iTunes formats signal an intention to create an entirely new business of selling interactive content, in addition to the music, TV and movie, and iPhone mobile software that the company has incrementally built into a series of online market empires. Rather than just being a way to enhance album and movie sales, Apple’s recent talks with newspaper and magazine publishers indicate that the interactive iTunes formats are really designed to allow traditional print publishers to enter the digital age with a business model that is more substantial than the web’s current adware/spyware model, where users’s preferences are tracked with cookies and relevant ads are shown in an effort to monetize content.

The free web, supported entirely by advertising, has revolutionized the flow of information but has devastated traditional journalism by giving uninformed bloggers and astroturfing advertising campaigns an equal presence next to legitimate news sources, erasing any sense of journalistic integrity and reputation. It has also enabled widespread content theft, where news and information published by a reputable source at significant cost can be freely plagiarized by anonymous individuals who then get money from their own adjacent ad placements on their “splogs” or spam blogs, something that ad marketers like Google have quietly benefitted from and thus have made little effort to eradicate.

Apple’s simple interactive content formats, paired with its very popular iTunes delivery system, is guaranteed to create a real market for web content independent from contextual advertising. This will enable the company to do an end run around Google’s ad empire and Microsoft’s belated efforts to copy Google, and offer content producers such as newspapers, book publishers, magazine editors, and other vendors of proprietary information a marketplace where they can sell their content directly to consumers, just as Apple provided a functional market to music labels, movie studios, and mobile software developers.

This new strategy appears to be the linchpin that will make Apple’s forthcoming tablet a viable product, as consumers will be buying it not just to surf the ad-sponsored web, but also to navigate a new generation of interactive, animated digital content: newspapers and magazines that incorporate video and voice and hyperlinks just like the web, but without ads. Similar to premium TV channels, this will result in a market for premium content as an alternative to the puerile garbage that fills most of the space between commercials on free TV channels and the web.

By selling access to this professionally-created premium content to a large target audience, publishers will be able to charge very little per issue but still make sustainable profits, something that has been completely illusive on the web as traditional print publishers have failed to find web users interested in subscribing to their content, and as the scant revenues from ad placement evaporate as users find out how to block ads or simply ignore them. Additionally, as Google has monopolized the web ad market, the value of online advertising to content producers has plummeted.

Pulling off the futuristic digital newspaper has long remained a pipe dream, as traditional print publishers faced an uphill effort to convince readers to trade paper for far more expensive digital readers. Apple has the unique capacity to pull this off because of its existing iTunes business in selling high volumes of content via micropayments, combined with its unique position as the maker of the top selling iPod and iPhone and the Mac platform. Apple has attracted a loyal audience of customers who actually pay for content, in stark contrast to the torrent music and movie scene supported by adware, the hobbyist mobile software community, and the ad-supported web.

Rival content formats being promoted by Adobe, Amazon, Microsoft, and by groups of traditional publishers themselves all either rely upon ads to sell the content, or lack a hardware reader, or lack an online store to sell content, or lack the technology to deliver colorful, interactive, animated multimedia content.

29 comments

1 Berend Schotanus { 11.26.09 at 12:47 pm }

“Apple’s new iTunes formats signal an intention to create an entirely new business of selling interactive content”

This sentence was for me the pivoting point in the article. Until there I was thinking of the potential of streaming live (ad supported?) http content to Apple TV (which wouldn’t be bad either and might ultimately kill the cable companies). After that I realized that indeed the potential and necessity of an easy and trusted payment system for readable content is enormous.

Not bad for a “uniformed” ad-supported blogger ;-)

2 ModplanMan { 11.26.09 at 1:45 pm }

The failure of traditional print and the like to adapt to newer business models is their own fault and always happens in all transitions which necessitate changes in business models, and their own inability to provide content more compelling than alternatives built around advertising revenue.

[I don't agree with pundits who complain that music and print industries "failed to adapt" to rampant theft by simply giving their content away and slapping ads next to it. One might just as well complain that retails who suffer crippling losses from shoplifting are "failing to adapt" while demonizing those security controls on clothes as being DRM. Perhaps everyone should just give their stuff away. How rediculous

Citing techdirt isn't really helpful, as these are people who create nothing but worthless opinions. Of course they can give them away next to ads and live off the proceeds. They're not legitimate producers of value. - Dan]

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20070215/002923.shtml

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20070215/002923.shtml

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20070503/012939.shtml

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20070125/004949.shtml

Apple succeeds bcause it has continualy over the past few years find new ways to justify paying premium prices. This should not however come as detrimental to the idea of all free alternatives or content so that you can make easy generalisations like cheapskate PC users.

3 J0hN { 11.26.09 at 2:06 pm }

This is something I like. This is very probable and it builds on proven technologies and as far as i can see makes good business sense.
I would enjoy it if Apple created there own Book store and reader for their iPhone/iPod Touch Platform in an update as I would enjoy an easy to use and cheaply priced store for well written and popular titles.
That is something that i would use and enjoy.

4 uberVU - social comments { 11.26.09 at 3:48 pm }

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by DanielEran: New: Apple posts tools for building TuneKit iTunes LPs and Extras – http://tinyurl.com/yzm7xrh

5 vudicarus { 11.26.09 at 6:57 pm }

Note on page 3 of the “Tune Kit Programming Guide” is a reference to “Cocktail”

“The TuneKit controller classes are designed to streamline the creation of Cocktail booklets that follow basic design
patterns”

Confirms (at least for me) what you/AppleInsider’s reported. It seems “Cocktail” is still in use as a general term for TuneKit products, rather than replaced by “iTunes LP” for example.

6 Home Depot Lighting:Home DIY Questions and Answers | Home Depot Lighting { 11.26.09 at 7:36 pm }

[...] Apple posts tools for building TuneKit iTunes LPs and Extras … [...]

7 The Mad Hatter { 11.27.09 at 9:02 am }

It has also enabled widespread content theft, where news and information published by a reputable source at significant cost can be freely plagiarized by anonymous individuals who then get money from their own adjacent ad placements on their “splogs” or spam blogs, something that ad marketers like Google have quietly benefitted from and thus have made little effort to eradicate.

I’ve seen this assertion before, however no one has ever been able to prove to me that it is actually happening. As a result I’m classifying this as an Urban Legend.

Oh, and have you heard about the rumored Murdoch/Microsoft deal?

8 The Mad Hatter { 11.27.09 at 10:25 am }

Off Topic – Apple Sales are doing very well.

9 pyrrhonist { 11.27.09 at 11:23 am }

Notice that on iTunes the samples for both LP and Extras pop up in unresizeable windows with a diagonal measurement of between 9 and 10 inches, the putative size the the iTablet. Viewing these specimens might give one an idea if the iTablet object size. If book and magazine providers can reformat their products for this presentation size, Apple will become a major print publishing conduit! The writing is on the wall.

10 ChuckO { 11.27.09 at 1:40 pm }

I’m kind of shocked this isn’t already being done out there on the web. The closest you see is a site with a flash opening but it seems like such a natural thing for publication to design their site’s to feel like DVD’s where the home page would be like the menu and the content could flow from there. I would pay for good content delivered like this. I hope they come out of the gate stronger than the iTune’s albums and extra’s though.

11 The Mad Hatter { 11.27.09 at 2:23 pm }

ChuckO,

The only problem will be that you’ll have to use ITunes to view it. ITunes, QuickTime, and Windows Media are miserable playback platforms.

12 ChuckO { 11.27.09 at 3:19 pm }

Mad Hatter, Yes the Apple specific version of these would need an Apple product for playback but the technology behind these are all web standards that could be used on the web with very little re-work necessary. This would probably only make sense for magazine sites.

It’s amazing how little web pages have changed over the course of time. The typical blog layout and inter-action is screaming for at the very least a web 2.0 makeover. How about a iTunes style layout for Roughly Drafted? Have a cover flow section at the top of articles. YOu click on one and the text appears below. You click on a “done” button when your finished and the articles in “cover flow” can indicate if you’ve read them or not. I could go on all day.

13 The Mad Hatter { 11.27.09 at 5:26 pm }

ChuckO,

The problem is that the Apple specific version won’t do much to push web standards, if it’s locked to ITunes.

14 ChuckO { 11.27.09 at 6:08 pm }

Hatter,
I think your missing the point. The various types of files are web standard types (css,html,javascript,mpeg video,etc.) that are altered slightly (by file extension I think) to run under Apple specific apps since there isn’t a traditional web server in these environments. This way talent is easy to find to build them. Apple doesn’t have to build a community of developers willing to learn something new or media companies don’t have to try and hire cocoa developers to do this as that would be overly expensive and time consuming and just plain overkill.

The only thing I thought would translate to the web potentially would be the magazine version of this. I wouldn’t think bands or movies would want web site versions of iTunes extras or albums for what I would think to be obvious reasons. Magazines though could potentially translate.

Thirdly I was just saying how I thought the use of web standards to build these cool multimedia experiences (iTunes extras and albums) show how stagnant the web is and how I thought they show how with a little imagination various web sites could benefit from a similar rethink.

15 The Mad Hatter { 11.27.09 at 6:24 pm }

ChuckO,

I got that part – it’s standard, easy to produce. But it won’t play anywhere except ITunes, and I see that as interfering with adoption. If it played in any web browser, than adoption would be wider.

16 ChuckO { 11.27.09 at 7:15 pm }

You could run them on the web by renaming the files pretty much..or with a slight bit of additional work. The problem would be in the case of iTunes extras they’re using web standards to mimic a DVD or iTunes albums to “animate” content around music. Most Movie or band sites probably wouldn’t want to make that functionality available on the web unless it was password protected so they could charge. A magazine that worked sort of like a DVD would probably work better on the web as well as a computer, AppleTV, Apple tablet. Instead of move chapters you have the stories. The site could have a nice animated feel with cool transitions combining different types of media in a fluid way. You could sell it to run on devices or put it on the web behind a sign in page. The other important thing as this is probably more likely than trying to sell it on the web is it would be easy for COMPETING devices to re-use the format. I’m sure Apple wants to own the devices it plays back on like they do the iPod for MP3′s but at least they would have a selling point to Media companies that it would be EASY to repurpose.

17 FreeRange { 11.27.09 at 11:37 pm }

Mad Hatter – sorry to disagree but I find your assertions more than ridiculous. First, your comments that iTunes and QT are “miserable playback platforms”. What utter nonsense – 10′s of millions of consumers have found these platforms to be much more than adequate, easy to use, feature rich and quite enjoyable (especially when you have so much web content being delivered by the truly horrible flash platfrom) – none have complained of being “miserable” when they use them. As to your assertion that locking the content to iTunes is somehow inherently bad is equally absurd. In order to have premium subscriber content, you need to lock it in to protect the business model for the content providers. The overwhelming success of iTunes and the ecosystem surrounding it have proven quite dramatically that it is a hugely successful model for content delivery that consumers are more than willing to adopt, and pay for, a market in the hundreds of millions. You come off as one of the internet freeloaders that wants universally open and free content.

18 ModplanMan { 11.28.09 at 5:29 am }

There is no reason to lock in content to “protect the business model”, as doing so has not stopped rampant piracy, nor smaller scale sharing. Customers will gladly pay when they value something, and have an easy to use store front that allows the to easily sync to their device of choice (which Apple has obviously had great success in making that device the iPod).

Even iTunes sells DRM free music. The point is not whether the content is free or not, but the assertion that a business model can only exist with a locked in store front combined with DRM. If you or Dan had read the articles I referred too, they are not just opinion pieces – they are well researched and grounded in economics and business, that’s why I posted them, not because they are opinin pieces I happen to agree with.

19 The Mad Hatter { 11.28.09 at 5:52 am }

FreeRange { 11.27.09 at 11:37 pm }

Mad Hatter – sorry to disagree but I find your assertions more than ridiculous. First, your comments that iTunes and QT are “miserable playback platforms”. What utter nonsense – 10’s of millions of consumers have found these platforms to be much more than adequate, easy to use, feature rich and quite enjoyable (especially when you have so much web content being delivered by the truly horrible flash platfrom) – none have complained of being “miserable” when they use them.

ITunes/Quicktime is junk. Oh, it works, but it’s so limited in the number of codecs it can handle that it’s ridiculous. Windows Media is the same.

The best Video player on the planet is Videolan. Ask any videophile, they’ll all tell you the same thing. The team from École Centrale Paris has managed to out produce all of the proprietary software companies on the planet in producing Videolan, and have a right to be damned proud of themselves for a job well done.

As to your assertion that locking the content to iTunes is somehow inherently bad is equally absurd. In order to have premium subscriber content, you need to lock it in to protect the business model for the content providers. The overwhelming success of iTunes and the ecosystem surrounding it have proven quite dramatically that it is a hugely successful model for content delivery that consumers are more than willing to adopt, and pay for, a market in the hundreds of millions. You come off as one of the internet freeloaders that wants universally open and free content.

Really? You mean that I was a total idiot to buy those DRM free albums through ITunes? Oh, the horror.

You don’t need DRM for premium content. You do need to provide value.

I won’t buy anything that has working DRM (I will buy DVDs because the DRM doesn’t work – and since I don’t live in the USA I don’t have to put up with the DMCA – you’d shit yourself if you saw my DVD collection – it takes up most of a 20 foot long wall unit – except for the space for the TV). Many people feel like I do, which may be one reason that Blu-Ray hasn’t taken over the market. Of course upscaling DVD players make a huge difference on a wide screen TV.

I stand by my statements.

20 Dorotea { 11.28.09 at 8:30 am }

@The Mad Hatter and FreeRange.

I think the two of you simply have different standards of judging. The Mad Hatter values having a wide variety of codecs while FreeRange values having a system that “Just Works”. I really like iTunes – it just works for me. I don’t have an extensive DVD library – but those that own have been “Handbraked”, and are now available to me through iTunes/AppleTV. Love it…. it works for me.

21 ChuckO { 11.28.09 at 9:23 am }

I still don’t get how this is “locked” into Apple proprietary format’s. They are open web standards slightly altered so you don’t need a full fledged web server opening up your computer to all kind of security problems like we’ve seen with Microsofts various personal web servers. It seems to me to be a trivial exercise for other companies to build apps that could “play” this content like Apple’s products do. I think Apple just feels like they’ve got the hardware solutions that people will want to buy to view this media on and want to do everything they can to keep Adobe’s proprietary crapware out of this ecosystem.

22 MipWrangler { 11.28.09 at 11:47 am }

Interesting arguments. One delusion that people often are blind to with the whole “just let me pay for premium content without the ads” concept is that companies are perfectly willing to let accept payment for the “premium” content, but then the ads never seem to disappear. As Dan likes to say (and nearly always my favorite part of his posts) – this all happened before. When cable TV first came out (and I mean after the whole community antenna thing for you old timers), many of the cable channels were presented without ads. Now it’s hard to find many channels on cable that are presented without ads. Cinema and gaming have also gone this way. What’s worse in my opinion is that in addition to the ads, the cost of the content has actually increased. So on the surface, iTunes LP/Extras looks great, but I am very skeptical that content companies will be able to pass up the ad revenue, especially since they will not have to share control of the ad real estate with vendors like Google. So in the end I think we’ll end up actually paying to watch ads, especially after the “operation” of skipping them is “not permitted” like DVDs and BlueRay can specify today.

The sad part of this is that I actually think Apple’s got a great idea here! Their push for using standard technologies like HTML and JavaScript great to see. In my opinion big media just hasn’t shown itself to have enough integrity to make me believe they’ll use it to make the experience any better for consumers. Making money is why they exist after all.

p.s. Don’t forget… ads don’t just degrade the experience by being present (which they do), but they often degrade the performance of the content as well. RDM is 2 – 3 times faster to fully render with ads disabled. I leave them on for RDM because I want to support Dan’s work, but it certainly makes the experience less pleasant.

23 Imapolicecar { 11.28.09 at 1:47 pm }

“One might just as well complain that retails who suffer crippling losses from shoplifting are “failing to adapt” while demonizing those security controls on clothes as being DRM.”

Not really a good analogy imho. I can borrow my friend’s clothes and wear them if I wish. With DRM it seems I have to borrow the clothes with him inside.

24 enzos { 11.28.09 at 3:30 pm }

Mad: afraid the VLC player let me down badly a few days ago – couldn’t open or convert .rm files (for a non-technical online mag owner/friend). Tried ffmpegX and, after all the hassles of setting it up.. it didn’t work either. Ended up uploading the bloody things to Youtube which worked fine but not what was intended. I feel the problem is really the unnecessary proliferation of codecs. What a tangled up mess!

Mip: you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din! I’m using Safari in 32-bit mode so that the add blocker works. (I’m sure Dan will understand, it is he who also recommended click2flash)

25 The Mad Hatter { 11.28.09 at 9:43 pm }

ChuckO, My apologies, I had misread this earlier article of Daniel’s to mean that the css/html files were DRMed.

enzos, rm is about the only filetype it can’t play, that is a Real Player format, and was popular at one time, until Microsoft used their monopoly to ship Windows Media with every copy of Windows.

Dorotea, I like Videolan/VLC. While as enzos found out, it doesn’t do .rm files, or DRMed Windows Media, it does everything else, and it works on all operating systems. Since I also use Linux, and even have to use (god forbid) Windows the odd time, having one Video player for all platforms is great.

Yes, ITunes works. Hell, Windows works too. I prefer to avoid both of them when I can.

26 MipWrangler { 11.29.09 at 7:22 am }

@Enzos

Mip: you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din! I’m using Safari in 32-bit mode so that the add blocker works. (I’m sure Dan will understand, it is he who also recommended click2flash)

Honestly, on RDM it isn’t too bad (other than the additional load time) because the ads quickly scroll off the page while reading Dan’s lengthy – yet enjoyable – posts! Plus I read them in Mobile Safari most of the time anyway.

27 hofighter { 12.01.09 at 1:19 am }

I think Apple may very well have a winning game plan here. What I really want is for content that I find interesting to be easily discovered and seamlessly delivered to my consumption device of choice (whether that’s my computer, my iPhone, or some future TabletMac). I frankly hate thumbing through magazines at the airport news stand looking for something to keep me intrigued during my flight. I surely hate all the adds in today’s magazines – more adds than compelling content for sure.

If Apple could provide me with an iTunes eco-system for all my reading needs – news, pleasure, etc, I’d be all for it. It could suggest articles I might find interesting based on my past buying habits, and it would certainly be more accurate than my news stand stumblings. Maybe I could just buy the article or two that I care about instead of the rest of the crap I don’t.

Silly analogy maybe, but “rich content” makes me think about the Daily Prophet newspaper from the Harry Potter books and movies. Maybe Apple could provide a way for me to choose how I consumed an article…(1) read it myself, (2) watch a short clip or news broadcast, or (3) maybe have it read to me text to speech. The possibilities seem endless and far more compelling to me. I’d frankly be ecstatic to pay Apple (and all their future publishing partners) for a service that puts everything I want to read in front of me – and maybe even wirelessly at that. Bring it on!

28 nat { 12.01.09 at 2:09 pm }

One of the best uses for TuneKit that I haven’t heard suggested is for App Store app pages in iTunes 9. Each app could essentially have its own interactive, self-contained promotional website with videos, photo galleries, all with slick animations and (if enabled) music. It could even house things like leaderboards for games. Just a thought.

29 Gunga Din Movie Streaming « marcel6840736 { 12.03.09 at 2:48 am }

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