Are Apple And The Music Labels Mixing Holiday "Cocktails" On The Tablet?

439039873_e8ff5f0e41An interesting report hit the Financial Times today, indicating that Apple is working with all of the major music labels on a way to boost album sales. But the report is confusing in a number of regards, and is propelling new rumors that Apple’s new large form iPod touch, or tablet (which itself is naturally still a rumor, though an increasingly likely one), could be rushed to be out in time for the holidays — this year.

But let’s take a step back for a second here. FT seems to go back and forth between tying this new Apple/music label effort, which is apparently code-named “Cocktail”, with this new device. At first, it indicates that it’s separate (emphasis mine):

The talks come as Apple is separately racing to offer a portable, full-featured, tablet-sized computer in time for the Christmas shopping season, in what the entertainment industry hopes will be a new revolution.

But it goes on to say (emphasis mine):

The device could be launched alongside the new content deals, including those aimed at stimulating sales of CD-length music, according to people briefed on the project.

Okay, except that it then goes on to say (emphasis mine):

The labels and Apple are working towards a September launch date for the project, which aims to boost interest in albums by bundling liner notes and video clips with the music.

So the Financial Times seems to be both suggesting that Apple’s tablet is closely tied to this new Cocktail project, which could launch in September. Or, the tablet is a separate project and will launch in time for the holiday shopping season (typically late November). Of course, reports last week had Apple working hard just to get the tablet device done for Q1 2010. So what gives?

Here’s what it sounds like is happening. The music industry people that FT talked to are excited about the prospects of their new project with Apple, but they’re even more excited about this new tablet device. As I’m reading it, project Cocktail sounds pretty ho-hum by itself (um, liner notes as an incentive, again, really?), but this is the key part:

Consumers would be able to play songs directly from the interactive book without clicking back into Apple’s iTunes software, executives said.

picture-1210So it sounds like project Cocktail could offer special functionality that may be optimized for this tablet (and perhaps the iPhone and iPod touch). And so that’s why they’re probably talking up the new device, which they may or may not have even seen, as is indicated by the FT report still not knowing the actual screen size.

All of this is also interesting because it’s Apple apparently working closely with the record labels — two sides which have had plenty of disagreements in the past. And this seems to be all about album sales, something which you could easily argue that iTunes is responsible for hurting with its per-track structure.

But the labels just recently got their way and forced Apple to up the price of many songs on iTunes. At the same time, album prices largely stayed the same (though some went up). So now it appears that the labels also want to make more off of albums, by not only giving users a reason to buy them, but I would imagine also charging more for these special Cocktail albums.

But will it work? From the way this story reads, it seems like it may be contingent on this new Apple device. I don’t know about you, but I could care less about liner notes that the albums on iTunes already have. If anything, I’d prefer not to get them, as they just clutter up my music library. And iTunes already has plenty of “special” versions of albums that have bonus music videos and other goodies. So unless this story is about nothing, it would seem that FT just isn’t describing Cocktail very well for the most part, and instead we should look to the description of it as a highly interactive experience for music.

But then the report jumps back to being about the tablet — and it reads like the device will matter more for movies, than music:

The entertainment industry is hoping that Apple, which revolutionised the markets for music players and phones, can do it again with the new device.

“It’s going to be fabulous for watching movies,” said one entertainment executive.

Or maybe books:

Book publishers have been in talks with Apple and are optimistic about their services being offered with the new computer, which could provide an alternative to Amazon’s Kindle.

In all likelihood, Apple is probably targeting all three (music, movies and books) with the new device, but it’s hard to follow here.

Most importantly, how likely is it that we’re going to see such a device in just a couple of months? Probably not too likely.

[photos: flickr/ginsnob and TECHcocktail]