On September 10th, Apple launched the iTunes LP – a new music format that they hope will be the digital replacement for vinyl album packaging. The format is a single DRM free package with .mp3 files for music.
Below is an example of the how the Bob Dylan package appears in iTunes post download. The package (an .itlp file) sits at the top of the album stack and appears with an icon to differentiate it from the album tracks.
The .itlp file is a package containing web pages, assets and configuration files. The contents of the LP can be viewed by right-clicking the .itlp file and selecting “Show Package Contents”. The package contains a few individual files as well as several directories.
In the end, the iTunes LP is just a simple HTML website. The first file web developers will notice is an index.html file, the default view for any HTML website. A few things to note about this page:
- There are two meta tags in the index.html file that appear to reference Apple TV. While the iTunes LP currently won’t run on the device the <meta name=”hdtv-fullscreen” content=”TRUE”/> and <meta name=”hdtv-cursor-off” content=”TRUE”/> tags are obviously intended to add support in the future.
- I was able to create a simple .itlp file containing only an index.html file (Hello World) by duplicating an existing package. It ran in iTunes with no issues.
- Placing an invalid .itlp file into iTunes will silently trigger an error causing iTunes to delete the package.
- The HTML files in the .itlp are unable to pull any content from the internet.
The three other files in the main directory are the iTunesArtwork, iTunesMetadata.plist, manifest.xml. The iTunesArtwork file is the album cover preview for iTunes. The iTunesMetadata.plist is the preference file for the LP and contains metadata about the album, the purchaser and ISRC (International Standard Recording Codes) for each track in the album. The manifest.xml is a simple playlist file using http://apple.com/itunes/media_archive/manifest as it’s schema, a site that does not yet exist.
Bob Dylan – Highway 16
Double clicking the .itlp file launches the album into expanded mode and will take over the player below the iTunes play controls. Upon launch, the homepage plays a short audio loop and displays a list of links for navigating within the LP and, in a surprising move, linking back to the artist’s official website.
Clicking on “Play Album” will launch one of two slideshows featuring either images of Dylan or a text treatment of the album title that slowly fade in and out as the music plays. The play controls in iTunes can be used to change songs but don’t effect the visuals. The shideshow and music aren’t connected in and way and the slideshow will progress even if the music is paused. The audio is played back from iTunes, not from within the package, and closing the package does not inturrept playback.
Another way to navigate the album is through the song list. In order perform actions beyond simple selecting of a track you must use the iTunes play controls.
Selecting a song shows track info, lyrics and a unique photo for to each song. There is a simple next/previous navigation for moving backwards and forwards within the album.
The Photos page is a carousel that scrolls horizontally on mouse click. Clicking on a photo to the left or right of center rotates the group, and double clicking on the center image will take you to a full page view.
The full page detail respects the size of your iTunes window (not true full screen) even though the images are of 1280 x 720 resolution. This is the same resolution as HD TVs, making them the perfect size to be displayed through Apple TV.
The Videos page is a simple list of all videos included in the LP. They are all 640×480 (VGA) resolution and are the same dimensions as the standard def videos you can buy or rent from iTunes.
Liner notes and credits are digital representations of content from the original LP.
In its short time in the market the iTunes LP has received mixed reviews. While there is some unique content, there are a few major flaws in Apple’s next-generation album format.
- None of the content is dynamic so new assets can’t be added over time
- The package can be bloated (near 500MG in some cases)
- There is no persistent navigation for the LP making moving around in the package more complicated than necessary
In typical Apple fashion they haven’t been forthcoming on how this spec will progress, and have yet to release public information about how to build LPs or what the submission/approval process will entail. While the first iteration of this product is lacking in some ways, there is nothing but room for improvement. Anyone who counts Apple out in a space so core to their iPod strategy would be making a huge mistake and I hope version 2 of this product will finally give music lovers back the rich music experience we lost in the post MP3 era.
Posted on: 09/28/2009