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ERA supports HMV in Apple squabble

By | Published on Wednesday 23 October 2013

ERA

As Apple was yesterday busy showing off its latest tablets, demoing the revamped GarageBand and bragging about its iTunes Radio sign-ups (the total number of users since US launch a month ago are impressive, average listening hours possibly less so, as MusicAlly notes), the UK’s Entertainment Retailers Association was issuing a statement in support of HMV in its previously reported squabble with the tech giant over its new download service.

The all-new HMV launched its all-new download service last week, the retailer’s first digital venture since the firm was bought out of administration by Hilco earlier this year. A mobile-centric set-up, key to the operation are its proprietary Android and Apple apps. The latter was unusual in that it allowed users to buy and download tracks almost within the app, with the transaction bit handled via the mobile web.

This seemed to violate Apple’s app rules, which ban transactions that cut it out of the process, but HMV insisted that its app had nevertheless been approved by the iPhone maker. Which it had, except Apple app checkers hadn’t noticed the external transaction element and, with approval still subject to all app rules being obeyed, after launch the tech firm ordered that functionality be removed, and suspended the HMV app from its store while the amends were being made.

Hilco and HMV boss Paul McGowan wasn’t impressed, telling reporters: “It is disappointing that Apple has chosen to suspend an app that has proven to be very successful in only a few short days despite Apple having already approved the exact same version on 15 Sep. We are unable to explain the change in Apple’s position as we have been given no explanation by them as to any difference they view between the approved version and the one suspended”.

While McGowan’s criticism focused on Apple approving and then unapproving his company’s app (Apple would likely say the app maker is still responsible for ensuring all the rules are followed, even if approval is given), the squabble has raised the wider issue of the limitations the tech firm puts on entertainment retailers trying to sell products and services via its mobile devices, limitations that exist in no small part to protect Apple’s own entertainment retail operations through the iTunes store.

In its statement, ERA, which counts HMV as a member, but not market leading download seller iTunes, said last night: “The dispute between HMV and iTunes highlights, we believe, serious issues of competition in the digital entertainment world”.

It went on: “iTunes is by far the dominant player in music downloads with a marketshare estimated to be over 70%, but just as importantly it also maintains an iron grip on access to the hugely powerful iPhone/iPad platform, which effectively hinders competitors from reaching millions of consumers and stands in the way of innovation. With market power comes responsibility and we urge iTunes to act responsibly and allow the development of a free market in music online”.

It’s not the first time Apple’s control over other retailers and digital service providers trying to reach consumers using its devices has been raised, of course, with competitors and policy makers having previously discussed the issue in both Europe and America. Though, unless someone is prepared to go legal over the matter, or a sufficient number of operators are willing to boycott the iOS ecosystem to force Apple’s hand, you don’t sense the tech company currently feels any need to respond to its critics in this domain.



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