Apple Launches Ping Social iTunes Line

Apple on Wednesday (Sept. 1) dove head first into social media with the launch Ping, the company’s latest version of iTunes—an offering which is comparable to Twitter for music lovers.

As expected, the company also unveiled on Wednesday a new version of Apple TV for $99, along with a TV show rental service. Initially ABC and Fox have agreed to rent individual episodes of their series for 99 cents each.

With Ping, Apple has created a new social network which appears to serve as both a promotional platform for music artists as well as a music discovery vehicle. Users can elect to follow their favorite bands—which can post photos, videos, album updates and tour dates via the service.

In addition, Ping allows users to follow other friends, who can share information on their own music collections and their opinions  on various artists. There is also the Facebook-like Ping’s Recent Activity feed, which automatically displays the top songs and albums a users friends have been listening to or have downloaded recently. However, unlike Facebook or Twitter, Ping is not advertiser supported (iTunes has never carried advertising).

As for Apple TV, the new version of the device is much cheaper (now $99 versus the original $299 price), and much more traditional-media-oriented than the previous model, which under whelmed many Apple lovers. When it was first introduced in 2006, Apple touted Apple TV as an easy-to-use device for people that wanted to watch Web video—particularly YouTube-type fare—on their TVs.

But now Apple is emphasizing professional movies and TV shows. Besides allowing users to rent shows from ABC and Fox for a dollar cheaper than purchasing them via iTunes, the new Apple TV allows viewers to stream full movies via a partnership with Netflix. That offering is similar to existing Netflix streaming deals with gaming consoles like the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft’s Xbox.

Besides Fox and ABC, Apple TV features full episodes from ABC Family, Disney Channel and BBC America. And users can still use Apple TV to download YouTube videos.

However, according to Forrester analyst James McQuivey, premium inventory limitations may dampen enthusiasm among consumers. “Just 12 percent of online adults in the US are familiar with the original Apple TV,” he said. “To get the rest of the market to pay attention, Apple has to offer more of what people want in the living room: more TV shows. Yet only ABC and Fox have agreed to let Apple rent their TV shows…as of this moment in 2010, Apple has not yet made a significant play for control of the TV.”