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Year-end review: Apple's best of 2008

December 3, 2008: 8:10 AM ET

"iTunes 2008 (2)30 Rock," "The Wire" and "Battlestar Galactica" are among the TV shows honored in iTunes 2008, Apple's (AAPL) comprehensive -- and surprisingly opinionated -- year-end review. [iTunes link]

Available through what used to be called the iTunes Music Store, iTunes 2008 covers all the media the online venue now serves up: movies, TV, audiobooks, podcasts, iPhone apps and music in genres ranging from Alternative to World.

Most categories are represented by software-generated lists of top sellers -- often a good way to find out what your kids are listening to or what you might be missing. The lists of free and paid iPhone Apps are particularly useful -- and have been getting the most attention in the blogosphere (see here).

But who knew, for example, that videos of talks from the TED technology conferences, which cost $3,750 if you want to watch them live in Monterey or Palm Springs, are now available for free through iTunes? In 2008, TEDTalks were the No. 2 most popular podcasts in the Classics: Video slot.

In several categories, however, Apple has gone beyond simply publishing top-10 lists and started making judgments about which books or shows are not just popular, but worthy of our attention. Apparently, it's not enough that Apple delivers the lion's share of our digital content; now it wants to dictate our tastes as well.

This is not the first time Apple has offered opinions through iTunes; witness its regular "staff favorites" and "what we're watching" lists. But this is the first time the iTunes Store's editorial voice has come through quite so forcefully.

"Proof positive that TV can be literature," begins the 54-word review of "The Wire, Season 5," iTunes' choice for best drama of 2008. "Human tragedies and triumphs are always center stage."

Or see its thumbnail summary of the pilot for "Breaking Bad," iTunes' pick for best single episode in a dramatic series:

"Bryan Cranston's slow-burn descent into dealing crystal meth is less a guilty pleasure than a tragic look at the unexpected choices we have to make to support our families. Desperate measures, indeed."

Who writes this stuff? And what's next, Ebert & Roeper on Koi Pond and Lightsaber Unleashed?

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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