Why Did Apple Sneak a U2 Album Onto Your iPhone?


u2 album

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Sure, there were some pretty big announcements at Apple’s big event on Tuesday, and we’re all excited about getting our hands on a bigger iPhone and the Apple Watch, but there was still “One More Thing” that came after the band U2 played to close out the show that doesn’t feel quite right.

Tim Cook told everyone that all iPhone owners were getting U2’s new album, Songs of Innocence, for free. Most of us are familiar with getting free music and the process around it. You get a card or code, enter it into iTunes, and your new music downloads. This free album was very, very different however. As it turns out, Apple didn’t just give everyone the album, but they added U2’s latest music to everyone’s music library automatically.

Apple did this to achieve a world record for the largest album release of all time, but the stunt feels more big brother-ish than record-worthy. Every iOS and iTunes user woke up yesterday with the new U2 album either in their music library or worse yet, automatically downloaded. If you had your devices set to automatically download new music then you have a surprise waiting in your iPhone, iPad, or iTunes. Open your music app or iTunes on the desktop and go to artists and scroll to the bottom. Here, you’ll find a new entry tor U2, whether you want it or not.

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The Big Deal

So why is this such a big deal? Free music is great no matter what, right? On the surface any music you can legally get and not pay for seems like a great idea, but once you look below the surface you’ll see why some people aren’t happy with Apple or U2.

To begin with, not everyone loves U2 as much as Tim Cook does, so it’s understandable they don’t want their music automatically added to their libraries. Many people take pride in the collection of music they’ve built over the years, and adding an album they don’t want as Apple just did is akin to taking a record that someone hates and super-gluing it into their record collection. Now anyone that looks there will see it, even if it has no place being there.

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Second, there are quite a few people that are near the end of their storage capacity on their devices, and if they had automatic downloads turned on, got even more of that space taken away. If you didn’t specifically look for it, you might miss the album and just notice the space it takes up gone. Instead of having that space for pictures or apps, it’s now filled with an album you don’t want.

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It’s kind of scary knowing that Apple can just add media to your phone like this without your consent, especially since you can’t truly get rid of it. Sure, you can open your music app or iTunes and delete the files from your device, but they’ll live on forever in the cloud. They used a tool that’s meant to help us sync our media files (that we bought from them, surprisingly enough) across devices for their own purposes, which isn’t cool.

Apple needs to realize that our devices aren’t theirs to play with any more. We’re not leasing them, we bought them. If Apple wants to give us something, ask us first, don’t just shove it in and expect everyone to love it.

Apple wanted this to be a huge PR stunt that would live on like Beyonce’s album release did, but instead it’ll live on with a far more bitter taste in our mouths.

Want to get rid of the album from your device? Click the link to see how.

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Brian Meyer

Brian is a technology nut who loves all things Apple. Along with tech blogging he owns and operates a website dedicated to Craft Beer knowledge and information: Craft Beer Academy. With a love of sharing information and finding the newest tech out there, he is a great source for interesting news and instruction.

11 Comments

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    1. I wouldn’t say I’m negative, but instead I’m focused on what happens with the devices I paid so much for. You are more than welcome to your opinion, though.

  1. Thoughtful, smart column! Glad to see a tech writer with sensitivity to such issues. While adding something is better than the reverse (Amazon removing 1984), it is intrusive.

    I have a story idea for you. At the previous keynote, Tim Cook said that “iMessage was th most used iOS app”. How does he know that? Is Apple somehow tracking which apps we use on our iPhone and iPads–and even for how long? Are our iOS devices phoning home to the Mother Ship?

    Would appreciate your looking into that–including asking Apple what the basis was for Tim’s observation. There may be a more benign explanation for it–or, you may have an incredible scoop!

    1. That’s actually a pretty good point. I’d say his stats come from market research and interviews, but who knows, they may very well be viewing stats like that.

  2. The real failure here is that when I went to download the album it took me nearly 5 minutes to figure out how to do so.

    I rarely use iTunes to buy music – but have always found it easy to do so. Just click on the “Buy” button and boom its downloaded. So, looking to download this U2 album….

    Click on the banner for the album… The normal buy button now simply says that I “purchased” it – with no obvious way to download it.

    Ok, click on the “Purchased” list on the iTunes sidebar…. Nope, only lists the songs I’ve previously purchased and already downloaded.

    Back to the iTunes store…. This time, click on the banner again…. ok maybe if I click on the album artwork. Yes! Here’s the album and the track listings…. Ok button says I “purchased it” .. I can play the songs here at least… nope those are just previews…. Where is the download button?

    Give up? No! I’ve been using Apple products since the 80’s. They were paragons of dead simple intuitive interfaces. But what the #$#@$!@ is this?

    Ok.. Back to iTunes. Click on the “music” tab…. Oh a “redeem” button.. maybe I need to redeem the free download… Nope. It wants a code… This whole process seems to need a code.

    Grr….

    Ok…. Time to go get some coffee.

    Back… Ok. back to iTunes. Click on the “house” button. What’s that tiny little “Purchased” button under “quick links”? Click on Music….. “Not in my library”… Oh wow, FINALLY … there’s the download button.

    Wow. Fail is all I can say. This process is a UI failure – especially Apple.

  3. Get your facts straight, please. You have to go to the iTunes store and download it yourself. Is it that you just don’t know what you are talking about or do you have a motive for misinformation?

    1. Actually you don’t have to. If you have automatic downloads turned on for music, then any new music in your account will download to any device this is turned on for, automatically.

      This feature is normally used for downloading something you bought on your iPhone to your desktop automatically or vice versa, but in this case it was used when they added the album.

      I’d say my facts are 100% straight, since this is exactly what happened to me. I can always write up a how-to on automatic downloads if it would help.

  4. Actually, Apple didn’t really put the songs on your phone, like most people seem to think. They’re links to downloads. At worst, Apple cluttered up your music list with a free offer.

    As for them toying with my device, I can see the objections. But I can also see how minor the infraction is. It’s not like Apple violated your privacy. It’s more like they put an ad where you didn’t expect one. Actually, not even an ad, but a free sample. Actually, not a free sample, but a gift. Maybe not one that you want, maybe not where you might have wanted it. But still, it’s a gift.

    This is probably more akin to a company that makes soap putting a free box of soap on your doorstep. You resent that someone put something on your property, and (assuming you don’t want the gift) that you have to go to the trouble of throwing it away. As far as problems go, that’s the kind of problem I would appreciate having more of.

    It’s not something I would call a big deal. But that’s just me.

  5. I’m sure you would not be bitching so much if instead of giving everyone the possibility of downloading (for ever from iTunes) the just released U2 album, would have push to your bank account a few million dollars (an this time actually pushing, no letting you claim as he did with U2 Album); I bet you would be so happily you could not open your mouth to return them because you had not asked.

    Stop being a hypocritical cynic, and behave.

  6. I’m so enraged with iphone just arrogantly dumping the U2 album onto my device; that I now can’t get rid of completely that I’m selling my iphone and buying the Galaxy Note 4 on Monday. Should have done that a long time ago.