Apple launched the new version of iTunes yesterday – version 10. Besides a host of small improvements, including a long overdue change in the icon (dropping the CD image!), the big news is that Apple have understood that social media concepts can be integrated into any software and shopping platform. It’s obvious, and we have talked about this at length on this blog (see especially this blog entry on going beyond the “obvious” with social media in businesses), but so many companies just haven’t got their heads into this space. It’s good to see Apple taking their first steps here with the introduction of Ping as part of iTunes 10.

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Unfortunately, they’re only first steps. There’s a long way to go still before it is really impressive.

Ping is a social media platform that sits inside iTunes (that’s part of the problem, as it crawls along at even slower speeds than the snail paced iTunes store). Ping allows you to follow artists and friends and have them follow you – basically a music-based social network. It also promises to be quite clever about learning your music preferences (from your iTunes library, purchases and likes). It displays a customized Top 10 chart that is based upon your followers (although when you start, it’s a bog standard list that includes Lady Gaga, U2 and Linkin Park). The friends feature allows privacy controls so you can choose who to share your music preferences with.

It uses iTunes data to create custom charts based on the people you follow (both your friends and also musicians who will no doubt soon be filling the network with their merchandise and promo pages). If you follow a musician, you’ll get alerts when they’re playing shows near you as well as any updates they send you.

You can think of Ping as a music-only version of your Facebook news feed. It’s also a huge recommendation network — one that will work pretty well if the people you follow on Ping have similar tastes in music. But that might be a problem if your friends on Ping do not!

I agree with Mashable’s initial take on Ping: “We don’t love Ping yet, but we don’t hate it, either. We suspect that much of the network’s value will be a wait-and-see proposition. Wait and see what happens when there are more artists, more curators, more well-known DJs and music bloggers, and more of your own friends on Ping. Wait to see what changes Apple makes in later iterations. But for now, it’s definitely an app worth watching.”

At least Apple have understood the power of social media concepts – of activating your community “fan base” and connecting your customers to your other customers without getting in the way. This will no doubt bear fruit for them, especially as later versions iron out some of the early usability issues.

The new iTunes 10 with Ping is now available on the desktop, iPhone and iPod Touch.

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