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Study: Music, not apps, rules iTunes

iPod and iPhone users still more likely to spend money on music than on apps, a study shows. But for how much longer?

Apps are a growing part of the iTunes business, but music is still tops. Greg Sandoval/CNET

Software apps, which enable iPhone and iPod Touch users to do everything from play games to keep track of their weight, continue to grow in popularity. But music is "still central to the iTunes experience," according to a new survey from market researcher NPD Group.

In contrast with years past, NPD said Tuesday, "when every dollar spent at iTunes was on music and video," apps now vie for a chunk of that cash.

NPD said that an online survey in May of more than 3,800 members of the company's Web panel showed that all iPod Touch and iPhone users have downloaded a free app. By contrast, 82 percent of the respondents reported making a music purchase, and 56 percent said they bought music exclusively. More than half said the majority of their time at iTunes is spent searching for music.

"Sales growth in digital music has been slowing," Russ Crupnick, senior entertainment analyst for NPD, said in statement. "Some of that decline might be related to the distraction from apps. However, iTunes shoppers are still completely engaged with music, whether it's about listening, discovering, or buying,"

Apple's iTunes, the world's largest music retailer, in February reported topping more than 10 billion song sales since its founding. Music was one of iTunes primary building blocks. In recent years, however, songs have become much more of a commodity.

Free songs are available at sites such as YouTube and Pandora. In addition, music must compete with videos, social networking sites, video games, and now apps.

Two out of three iPhone and iPod Touch owners who have downloaded apps said they use them regularly, according to NPD.

On Monday, CNET reported that Apple is working on improving iTunes' music discovery abilities, according to numerous sources with knowledge of the talks.

At a media event set for Wednesday, Apple is expected to announce that it will boost the length of song samples--the snippets of music that iTunes users are allowed to hear to decide whether they like a song--from 30 seconds to at least 60 seconds and possibly as long as 90 seconds.