Apple launches social network for music called Ping

Steve Jobs: "It's a social network all about music"

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Apple has launched a social network as part of the latest version of its iTunes software.

Ping, as it is known, allows users to build networks of friends and professional musicians, in a similar way to services such as Twitter.

The service also builds playlists based on what friends are listening to.

Analysts said it represents a challenge to existing music-based social networks such as MySpace.

"It's a social network all about music," said Mr Jobs, launching the application at an event in San Francisco.

"We think this will be really popular very fast because 160 million people can switch it on today," he said.

The service will be accessible through iTunes 10 software on Macs and PCs as well as through the iTunes application on iPhones and the iPod Touch.

Network killer?

Analysts at research firm CCS Insight said it represented an "ambitious move" that would present a challenge to "ailing MySpace and other social networks".

Michael Gartenberg, partner with research firm Altimeter group, agreed.

"MySpace is the one that has to look at what this means to them and will probably face the greatest competition from Ping in the short term," he told BBC News.

Start Quote

It sounds like a subset of Facebook, but Facebook is life and this is music”

End Quote Steve Wozniak Apple co-founder

"They are going to have to figure out a way to differentiate themselves because Apple is already where I am buying my music and this is a natural extension. You wonder why the music industry collectively hasn't thought of this before."

MySpace has traditionally attracted musicians, who use the site to share their own music and discover other artists. However, its growth has stagnated at around 60 million users and many people have migrated to other networks such as Facebook.

"Ping destroys whatever was left of MySpace's market share," said Xeni Jardin, co editor of the technology blog Boing Boing. "It remains to be seen what kind of competition it poses for Facebook."

But Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak told BBC News that Ping was not about taking audiences away from other networks.

"It sounds like a subset of Facebook, but Facebook is life and this is music."

Mr Jobs billed it as a new way to discover music.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveils Ping, a social network for music

The service allows users to create their own profile on iTunes, which details friends lists, what music they are listening to and which concerts they will attend.

It will also show a top 10 list of songs and albums their friends and the artists they follow are downloading from iTunes.

The network may challenge the social ambitions of other services such as Spotify and Last.fm.

Spotify, for example, allows users to share playlists and their favourite artists via Facebook. Users can also import their songs from iTunes, which they can then share via Spotify.

Last.fm allows users to tracks other users' listening habits on iTunes.

But iTunes, with 160 million users, dwarfs both services. Last.fm has about 40 million users while Spotify has just 7 million.

Mr Jobs said that since launch, nearly 12 billion music tracks had been downloaded from the Apple site.

Start Quote

The battle for the living room has been heating up for a while; now that Apple has reloaded its weapons, the fight just got more interesting”

End Quote Maggie Shiels BBC technology reporter

However, early reviews of Ping have not been all favourable some claiming that it offers the same music recommendations for all users. Others have complained that it does not allow people to import contacts from other social networks and services.

Reverse strategy

Mr Jobs also used the event to introduce an updated version of its Apple TV, which can be plugged into a television set and used to stream movies and TV shows from iTunes.

The original product has been around since 2007, but has never been a success for Apple. Mr Jobs has in the past described it as a "hobby".

"We've sold a lot of them, but it's never been a huge hit," he said.

The new version will only allow people to rent content rather than buy it. All shows and movies will be high-definition.

Initially, it will only offer TV shows from two studios: Fox and ABC.

"We think the rest of the studios will see the light and get on board pretty fast with us," said Mr Jobs.

Steve Jobs at keynote Mr Jobs also introduced new versions of the iPod Nano and Shuffle

It would offer the "largest online library of movies to rent in the world", he added.

The box will also allow US users to stream films from rental services such as Netflix and access online services such as Flickr and YouTube.

It will also stream video from other devices, such as the iPad via its Airplay technology, formerly known as AirTunes .

Ian Fogg, an analyst at Forrester, said the device turned the traditional digital home model on its head.

"Apple's strategy is around the person and personal devices - the iPhone, the iPod and iPad," he told BBC News.

"The classic technology strategy is to have a box with lots of media on it in the home that streams content to those devices. Instead Apple is enabling people to stream their content from their personal device to a household device.

"By doing that they have managed to make the Apple TV quieter, smaller and cheaper."

Although the box will be available in seven countries at launch, TV show rentals and Netflix connectivity will only be available in the US.

The event in San Francisco also showed off a new range of iPods and previewed software updates for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

The software included an application called Games Center that allows people to play multiplayer video games on their devices.

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