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U2 album removal tool shows how much Apple has changed

Automatic Songs of Innocence deletion program could be a worrying portent of the Apple of the future

Last Tuesday Apple launched not one, but two iPhones, as well as its first smartwatch.

However, among all the whooping and hollering, one part of the launch didn’t go so well. Right at the death, up pops U2 onto the stage, to announce that their latest album, Songs of Innocence, will be given away for free on iTunes. Not just given away, mind; forcibly inserted into your music collection. The next time you fired up iTunes, there would be the band’s latest oeuvre, smugly sitting in the “purchased” section.

Giving away an album is one thing. Non-consensually shoving your Bono into everyone’s computers, iPads and iPhones is just rude, not to mention creepy. If anyone needed reminding that Apple owns your music and software and is just granting you a licence to use it on Apple’s terms, this is it.

Predictably, and gratifyingly, there was a backlash, with the usual witty banter on Twitter and elsewhere displaying users’ displeasure at this violation. So far, so predictable, but last night’s development is where it gets a bit strange.

In a climbdown worthy of the Coalition Government, Apple has released a tool to remove Songs of Innocence automatically from your iTunes account.

This may be the right thing to do, and you could argue, just like David Cameron and the rest, that the company is simply “listening”. This behaviour is, however, not what I have come to expect from Apple.

This is a company which, famously, tells you what you need to buy, instead of giving you what you want. Apple is the epitome of Henry Ford’s famous comment, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. Apple releases the product it thinks people should have, and convinces them they want it, usually with great success.

It sounded the death knell of the floppy disk by stripping drives out of the first iMac, even though, pre-USB flash drives, there was no viable alternative. When it launched the iPhone, it ran roughshod over all those people who said a phone without a keypad couldn’t work. There were even scoffs when it launched the iPad, with commentators here, there and everywhere saying it was pointless and just a “big iPod Touch”. The iPad went on to create an entire market segment, with the competition scrambling to keep up.

If Apple is so willing to appease its critics over something so small as just a few unwanted MP3s, I worry whether it will have the sheer visionary arrogance to foist products upon us that we think we don’t need, shortly before they become near-indispensable parts of our lives.