Returning to the high-street after wrestling with administrators at the start of the year, HMV's next big step is to crack the world of online sales and digital downloads -- arguably the area which caused the company's financial ruin in the first place. In a realm dominated by iTunes, Amazon and Spotify, that's no mean feat, but HMV has a trump card: its new MP3-selling app has managed to break through Apple's walled garden.
Though HMV's spokespeople were unable to reveal what black magic was used that could explain it, Apple has allowed the HMV app to offer digital music downloads directly through its native app experience. There's no web portal or PC download syncing required, with the 320kbps MP3s delivered straight to your iPhone and integrated immediately with your device's iTunes library.
The app, also available on Android, has a few other tricks up its sleeve, including Google Goggle-like image recognition capabilities, letting you snap a physical album sleeve to grab the digital version in an instant, and Shazam-like audio recognition powers for when you hear an earworm but can't recall its name. Powered by 7digital's backend, the catalogue is strong, even if the prices don't challenge the norm -- you're looking at about between £8 and £9 for an album.
It's a nice and simple browsing experience, with horizontally-scrolling pages under headings like "Best Sellers" and "Must Have Music". And the app is set to evolve over time too -- already offering digital pre-orders, HMV executives have teased possible future updates including the option of lossless downloads and the potential for exclusive digital content that could use a form of two-step authentication for anyone who buys a physical album in a HMV store and scans the record with the app. For now though, it's merely being discussed, not implemented.
We'll have more on the HMV revival later this week, but for now the app is available for free from both the Google Play and iTunes App Stores. Windows Phone and BlackBerry users will have to make do with a HTML 5 optimised version of the refreshed HMV website.
Updated 18/10/2013 17.45pm: We thought it was too good to be true. As expected, it seems Apple are none too pleased with the way HMV's download app has got around its "walled-garden" ecosystem, and has asked HMV to pull the app. HMV has declined. HMV / Hilco's Paul McGowan had this to say on Twitter:
"After the first 5000 downloads of the #hmvapp overnight we get the first rumblings of discontent from Cupertino [...] Apple have politely asked us to remove the #hmvapp from the AppStore. We have politely declined. [...] They approved it last month!!"
An unfortunate start for the revived business. The original story follows.