iPod turns 5. Competitors turn stomachs. And Apple's just gettin' warmed up

iPod turns 5. Competitors turn stomachs. And Apple's just gettin' warmed up

Summary: I was contacted by a public radio reporter today to comment on the fifth anniversary of Apple's iPod and here is basically what I said:In the longstanding tradition of the Mac, Apple has done an absolutely brilliant job demystifying what is otherwise a complex technical process. It is only in recent years that some of the competing products have managed to catch up to the usability of the iTunes/iPod duo.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Apple
25

I was contacted by a public radio reporter today to comment on the fifth anniversary of Apple's iPod and here is basically what I said:

In the longstanding tradition of the Mac, Apple has done an absolutely brilliant job demystifying what is otherwise a complex technical process. It is only in recent years that some of the competing products have managed to catch up to the usability of the iTunes/iPod duo. But, by the time they did, it was basically too late. Apple controls 70 percent of the portable digital audio player market and, in the US, 88 percent of sales of downloadable music. Not only that, Apple has successfully bridged a usability story into a fashion story which has taken the attraction to the iPod to an entirely different level that no other technology vendor will be able to duplicate. That's because they're all pretty much fashion stupid. Just look at the billboards for the iPod. That thing in the hand of the youthful hipster doesn't even look like an iPod. 

Recently, at Gartner Symposium, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talked about Microsoft's stick-to-it-iveness with the message that once his company commits, it has the resources to keep at it until it wins. Only, in the portable digital audio space, the company didn't stick to it.  Instead, after it's PlaysForSure ecosystem barely made a dent in Apple's momentum, it went back to square one with a brand called Zune that, except for a few minor details, will pretty much mirror Apple's strategy (where the content comes from the same source as the hardware does). When Microsoft about faces, this is a sign that Apple is in charge. 

And just when all of Apple's competitors are turning to plan B, and just when a few cell phone vendors are getting hip to the idea of including iPod-like functionality in a mobile phone (something that no smartphone maker has quite figured out how to do very gracefully), Apple is about to swoop in and show them all how its done because you know that Steve Jobs would never let an iPhone see the light of day unless it's absolutely perfect. Nokia, Ericcson, Sony, Samsung, Motorola and the rest of the lot of them (as well as Microsoft and the other portable audio manufacturers) will be left so stunned by Apple's entry into the market that it will feel as though a supertrain with a wild party on it just left the train station while they were left standing on the platform say "But,...but..."

None of this is very good for consumer choice. Buying iPods engenders the purchase of content at Apple's iTunes Music Store which in turn engenders the purchase of iPods for the rest of your life because your content collection won't work anywhere else.  Imagine for example if music from Sony's artists only worked on Sony's walkmans, forever. You get the picture. Not good. 

How's this going to end. Eventually, some governments will force Apple's hand under antitrust law. If not here in the US, then somewhere else. Apple knows this and the name of the game at this point is arbitrage. Somewhere, on Apple's general counsel's spreadsheet, is the cost of an antitrust settlement against the company -- the sort where the company is forced to open up its interfaces on a fair licensing basis much the same way Microsoft has been forced to do the same. No matter how conservative the what-if scenarios in that spreadsheet are, Apple will still profit and very famously so. 

Here's a good question.  With Apple Mac sales going up (on the coattails of iPod sales), what happens when Apple decides not to make a Windows version of iTunes? 

Topic: Apple

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

25 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Different ending

    You posit that the story ends with customers locked into the iTunes store. Why so gloomy? I can see an alternate ending, one where RIAA domination slowly wanes, and more and more artists take control of their own destinies.

    Since all artists already allow their songs to be sold in digital form with no DRM (on something called a "cd"), most will have no issue with selling them as online downloads in the same form. These are all eminently playable on the iPod, as well as any other mp3 player. Sure, the few artists who remain mired in the quicksand of an RIAA contract will remain exclusively available online through the iTunes store in crippled form. This will only harm their sales, furthering the slide of the RIAA company behind them.

    The future looks bright. And you can help speed it along by patronizing stores that are doing things the right way, like Magnatune and eMusic.
    tic swayback
    • Response to Tic

      >Since all artists already allow their songs to
      >be sold in digital form with no DRM
      >(on something called a "cd"), most will have no
      >issue with selling them as online downloads
      >in the same form.

      Actually, this isn't true. You're confusing artists with record labels. Record labels currently sell CDs for the artists who have sold their rights to the record labels. Those record labels are very interested in closing down the so-called analog hole. In addition to DRM'd downloads (which the entertainment confab would be happy to move to completely if it wasn't for the remaining retail srength of tangible media), DRM'd CDs and DVDs are being worked on right now (the Sony rootkit fiasco being evidence of a prehistoric implementation... they haven't given up yet).

      I like Magnatune and eMusic.... perhaps the day will come when the RIAA turns and runs... but right now, the problem is that there are a lot of people amassing content collections that will be forever locked into being played on iPods... unless Apple voluntarily decides to more freely license the technology, or... it is forced to by governments. No matter which of the three options Apple picks (status quo, license, antitrust), Apple wins.

      db
      dberlind
      • Caveat emptor

        ---but right now, the problem is that there are a lot of people amassing content collections that will be forever locked into being played on iPods.---

        You buy a crummy product, whose fault is that? Should the government step in and protect people who are buying movies locked into HD-DVD if Blu-Ray turns out to be the more popular format (or vice-versa)? When do we reach a point where people are responsible for their own mistakes, for making bad choices? Should Apple also be forced to open up OSX to all generic hardware--after all lots of people are amassing software collections that will be forever locked to working on Macs.

        ---No matter which of the three options Apple picks (status quo, license, antitrust), Apple wins.---

        One has to wonder--take away the iTunes lock-in, would iPod sales drop at all? I doubt you'd see much change.
        tic swayback
        • Berlind and his ilk...

          continue to put the horse before the cart. They think people buy iPods so they can play music they bought at the iTunes Music Store.

          The truth is, the decision to buy an iPod is independent of the iTunes Music Store. I buy tracks from iTMS but do not own an iPod. I know people who own iPods and never buy from iTMS.
          frgough
  • If that was going to happen, it probably would have already...

    If new artists had figured out how to go around the recording
    studios, they could have done it with the first wave of MP3. Instead,
    a bunch of people went out and tried to rip off the recording labels
    and the artists that they signed. Strange as it seems, that just
    confirmed that the recording labels actually do add value to the
    products that they sell. I'm sure things will change over time but
    the future is quite uncertain.
    palmwarrior
    • Artists are doing just that

      ---If new artists had figured out how to go around the recording
      studios, they could have done it with the first wave of MP3.---

      It's a long, slow process. Remember that the labels control all access to appearing on radio or tv. Without that, you need tools to become popular. During the first wave of mp3, we didn't have MySpace, we didn't have blogs. We have those things now, and you're seeing bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and The Barenaked Ladies build successful careers without a major label. It's still in a pioneering stage, but becoming more and more feasible for everyone.
      tic swayback
  • Apple's new strategy: Destroy Windows with iPod viruses.

    It's so simple, any Mac luser can comprehend it. Secretly plant Windows viruses on iPods, the human cattle will buy them and connect them to their systems which activates the mal, let it destroy systems and blame Microsoft, and let the anti-MS FUD be enough incentive for people to buy Macs with OS X.

    A brilliant plan... except for two problems:
    1. The plot has now been exposed, meaning people are going to wake up and boycot Apple's products, and
    2. Many Windows users would rather use Linux, causing the whole plan to backfire in Apple's face.

    I'm eagerly awaiting to see what ammo they have left in that pistol they're pointing at their own heads.
    Mr. Roboto
  • Right...

    I'm not so sure about the virus part but it was sth what makes a
    mac user like me smile and have fun with it.. off course it never
    should have happened, cause it does damage the image off the
    company.
    Although it works a little bit like with google, it doesn't matter
    how many mistakes they make, they're still beloved..strange
    actually..
    I'm waiting for the nxt versions off the ipod, cause I need a new
    iPod, and if it could combine my phone as well, it would be
    great, but i'm not perfectly sure about that.. cause when the
    battery is gone, I won't have anymore antyhing to text with.. and
    that's not what I like..
    now have to go on with texting..
    cheers
    jaapwillem
  • iPod turns 5

    One of the reasons Apple has 88 percent of sales of
    downloadable music is the publishers/lables themselves.

    To this day the content owners do not have a clue on how to sell
    their product online. Their refusal to accept the fact of people
    wanting downloads. They let Apple try it as an experiment really.
    THEY forced Apple to have DRM. In reality the music publishers
    & labels could partner up and sell all of their music themselves.
    But they are clueless. They still are holding back 90% of their
    content!

    A lot of Apple's dominance came from this reluctance. So slow to
    license to even Napster or Real or any others. Heck XM & Sirius
    had a hard time getting up and running negotiating royalties.

    Apple's sudo monopoly was done not by Apple, but the content
    owners themselves.
    mozart11
  • iTunes music

    Any music you buy from the iTunes store is easily used on any
    device. All you have to do is burn the music onto a CD and, from
    there, you can use as you wish. Simple!
    lobotomiseme
    • A lot don't

      I guess you could call it back up, which would be nice if you have
      spent a fair amount of money buying from the iTunes Store. Make
      a back-up to protect your investment and your music is rather
      mobile.
      Ken_z
    • Not true

      It may be simple. But it's against the law (the Digital Millenium Copyright Act). The DMCA outlaws circumvention of the technology (DRM) that makes iTMS-purchased content incompatible with everything but iTunes and iPods. Even for backing it up.

      db
      dberlind
      • Re: Not true

        Burning CDs as is allowed in the EULA that comes with iTunes is
        legal under the DCMA.
        StaffordSweepstakes@...
        • What he said (nt)

          .
          voska
    • simply stupid

      It's simple. But time consuming, costs money for the resources (burner, blank media), and degrading in sound quality.
      And let's not overlook the fact that tomorrow Apple could decide you are no longer allowed to burn CDs and your whole solution is gone.
      It's a hack, but it's not the answer to the issue.
      shraven
  • Apple

    Apple have to convert for windows..
    " Keith Knutsson "
    Keith.knutsson
  • Consumer Choice? How old are you 18?

    "None of this is very good for consumer choice."

    Once upon a time I could buy vinyl which would play on my
    turntable, 8-tracks would would play in an 8-track deck, and
    cassettes which would play in a cassette deck. I couldn't play the
    vinyl in the 8-track, the 8-track in the cassette deck, nor the
    cassette on the turntable. I had a choice of 3 formats none of
    which were cross-compatible.

    Today I can rip songs from CDs, make purchases from the
    iTunes Store, sample old cassettes & vinyl, and take MP3s sent
    to me from my friends and play them all in iTunes or on my
    iPod.

    "Buying iPods engenders the purchase of content at Apple's
    iTunes Music Store"

    Or it engenders the purchase of physical CDs or for those of us
    with a turntable, old, rare LPs, and recording software the desire
    to dust off the LPs and slowly sample them into my own songs.
    at least the iTunes Storecan be used by people on both Macs and
    Windows, as opposed to every other store which is Windows
    only.

    "which in turn engenders the purchase of iPods for the rest of
    your life because your content collection won't work anywhere
    else."

    Except that I can burn all of my iTunes purchased song content
    onto audio CDs and then rip that into Windows Media Player (or
    whatever future software replaces it). And I can take any MP3
    that iTunes created from my CDs or other sources and load it
    directly into Windows Media Player (or whatever future software
    replaces it). And I can do that with greater fidelity and less time
    and expense than I had to spend 25 years ago to dub my LPs
    onto cassettes.

    "Imagine for example if music from Sony's artists only worked
    on Sony's walkmans, forever. You get the picture. Not good."

    Apple's iTunes software and Fairplay-DRM'd AACs (for iTunes
    downloaded content) can play on both Macintoshes and
    Windows PCs, Apple iPods, Motorola cell phones, and they can
    be burned to CDs.

    Microsoft's partner's PlaysForSure-DRM'd WMAs may be able to
    play on devices from multiple (but now orphaned)
    manufacturers, though not an iPod or a Zune or any cell phones,
    and they can only play on Windows PCs. Microsoft's Zunemart-
    DRM'd WMAs can only play on a Microsoft Zune and a Windows
    PC. Real's Harmony-DRM'd AACs can only play on certain Sansa
    players and a Windows PC. Sony's Connect-DRM'd ATRACs only
    work on Windows PCs and Sony Walkman players.

    Music from the cell-phone company's stores can only be played
    on their phones, not on your computer nor on a dedicated player
    nor be ripped to a CD.

    From what I can see, iTunes/Fairplay songs can not only be
    played on the most popular devices, but also the widest variety
    of devices. If you dislike DRM in general fine, but Apple's DRM
    implementation is by far the most open implementation of any
    manufacturer. And I can do far more with a Fairplay DRM'd file
    today than I could ever do with a track on my LPs 25 years ago.
    StaffordSweepstakes@...
    • for now, but not forever

      Combine your ideas with other stories about the locking of the kernel on Vista which will enable the ability to deny any recording of sound coming into the computer, etc and you see that while your answers work today, they are no solution and could be revoked tomorrow.
      We need to secure rights and avenues that guarantee us these abilities into the future, not relay on hacks and yet unclosed loopholes to secure our fair use rights. We need these to come in the form of legislation, not permissions from the companies selling us content so that we are ensured of the persistance of the solutions, not ensured that when it appears more attractive to change the rules they'll change.
      shraven
    • Good rebuttal

      I always chuckle when people bring up "consumer Choice" as a reason to take down the iPod. It works on Mac, Windows, and with any mp3 out there, unlike wma.

      Why should it work on content that excludes Apple's own computers?

      It's just sour grapes from the losers in this "battle."
      Monkeypox
  • Music players are not essential

    MSFT was convicted of being a monopolist who used illegal
    means to maintain their monopoly. Apple has not broken any
    law and they do not have a monopoly on music players. MP3 is
    standard supported by virtually all music players and music
    players are a luxury item.

    Do we expect game consoles to be interoperable? No, of course
    not.

    MSFT's situation was definitely different. They were trying to
    keep competitors off a platform that they did not create on
    hardware that they did not manufacture or have contracted out.
    aristotle_z