The iPod/iTunes link IS monopolistic

The iPod/iTunes link IS monopolistic

Summary: Amarok for Linux. If then you decide to buy from the iTunes store, you're making the hope of a divorce from iTunes all the more remote. Sure, you can burn music to a CD and then re-import that into another format, but once you bought a specific amount of music and you've attained a specific critical mass of audio (and CDs to burn), you're just not going to do it because it's too much of a hassle and you lose important information such as track name, album name and so on.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Mobility, Apple, Hardware
214

The other day I published a poll which asked for your opinion on whether the iPod/iTunes link is monopolistic.  Your opinions are split almost 50/50 (the poll currently stands at 56% of you thinking that the iPod/iTunes link is nothing more than good business practice while 44% of you believe that it is monopolistic).  My take on the situation is that the iPod/iTunes ecosystem that Apple The iPod/iTunes link IS monopolistichas fostered is monopolistic and Apple needs to be careful because pretty soon governments are going to start to sit up and pay attention to the fact.

There no doubt in my mind that the iPod/iTunes link is monopolistic, it's just that people don't seem to careSo, why do I believe that the iPod/iTunes bundle is monopolistic?  Let's begin by looking at the iTunes software and dispelling the idea that this is some sort of stand-alone media player.  It isn't.  In fact, in my opinion iTunes is a train wreck of an application that actually manages to make Windows Media Player seem at least adequate.  I'm not sure what kind of person would go out of their way to use iTunes on Windows if they didn't have an iPod.  It litters a Windows system with all sorts of junk processes relating to the iPod, which, if you don't have an iPod is a real slap in the face.  Even when you do have an iPod, iTunes is slow and kludgy on a good day and darn right annoying when it's having a bad day.

OK, so you've bought an iPod.  Congratulations, you're now married to iTunes.  Unless you've going to venture way off the beaten track and do some research, you're going to be living with iTunes for as long as your iPod lives.  Some alternatives (in case you're interested) include YamiPod for Windows, Senuti for the Mac, and Amarok for Linux.  If then you decide to buy from the iTunes store, you're making the hope of a divorce from iTunes all the more remote.  Sure, you can burn music to a CD and then re-import that into another format, but once you bought a specific amount of music and you've attained a specific critical mass of audio (and CDs to burn), you're just not going to do it because it's too much of a hassle and you lose important information such as track name, album name and so on. 

iTunes is also very picky about which formats it'll play.  If you're existing music library is in WMA format then you have many pleasant evenings ahead managing the mind-numbingly slow import process.  About half an hour of this will send you into a trance-like state where time no longer has meaning.  Is it any coincidence that the iPod doesn't support WMA and that iTunes has one of the slowest WMA convertors going?  If you still want to keep your WMA library (maybe because you have another media player) then it's time to invest in another hard drive, because from that point on you're going to be doubling up on everything.

Remember too that one iTunes library supports more than one iPod, but that's another catch.  Each device has to be an iPod.  Also, each iPod can hold music from five different iTunes accounts.  It's all designed to keep you buying more iPods.

And what happens if you've got a load of music in iTunes and your iPod dies?  Why, buy another one of course!

Then there's the iPod side of the equation.  Apple tried to lock the latest generation iPods to iTunes even if this meant upsetting iPod-owning Linux users.  Formats that the iPod can play are also locked down tight.  Want it to play WMAs?  Forget about it.  Want new firmware for the iPod?  Guess what, you need iTunes installed!

There no doubt in my mind that the iPod/iTunes link is monopolistic, it's just that people don't seem to care.

Thoughts?

Topics: Mobility, Apple, Hardware

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

Talkback

214 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Lock in

    It seems that most proprietary-based companies practice lock-in.

    It is good business practice to make the product/service as integrated and easy to use as possilbe, as end-to-end as possible, create hooks so it is hard to leave, and also to establish barriers to entry.

    It is a fuzzy line that separates a high "barrier to entry" and "lock-in" from a monopoly I think.
    hairyR
    • Misunderstanding

      As usual, there's a huge misunderstanding here between 'monopoly' and
      'proprietary products'. A monopoly is when you have control over an entire market.
      Proprietary products are when you have control over your own product.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong about proprietary products. Interestingly, there's
      also nothing illegal about having a monopoly. The only thing illegal about a
      monopoly is when you abuse your monopoly position to lock out competition.

      In this case, the market is MP3 players and music. Apple clearly does not have a
      monopoly in either of those markets. Even though they have a high market share,
      there is plenty of competition - including competition from well-bankrolled
      companies like Microsoft.

      Further, even if they did have a monopoly by some strange definition, they haven't
      done anything to lock anyone out. You're free to buy a Zune if you wish and almost
      all the music available on iTunes is available elsewhere for the same or lower price.
      And even if you wanted to convert your iTunes music to a format which will play on
      a Zune, you can easily do so by burning a CD and importing.

      Just more Apple-bashing from clueless people.
      jragosta
      • ^ Read parent post. [nt]

        [nt]
        olePigeon
      • Actually...

        Apple controls most of the MP3 player market. Yes, there are competitors, but Apple still is king in this market. So I would say they have a monopoly.

        Now, you're right about the monopoly itself not being illegal, rather anti-trust actions are the illegal grounds. And this is where I would say Apple is close to be treading thanks to their efforts of locking people in to their iPods by shutting everyone out.

        You seem to believe they're not shutting anyone out, but let me explain why I think they are. Apple's desire is for everyone to buy ALL their music from iTunes, and they are adamantly working towards that goal. Therefore, they try to get you to use iTunes exclusively, and buy all that music through there. They portray the illusion that you can "easily" convert music from AAC to any other format. You yourself wrote that this process is "easy." But if you call having a full collection of music (say 5000+ sings in my case) in ACC, making CDs out of it at 12 or 13 songs per CD, then reading that back in another format of choice easy then you're seriously delusional. AND you lose all the information embeded in the song file to boot!!! Please explain how that is easy.
        Why can't they just have a feature in iTunes that will convert all that AAC music directly to MP3?? THAT would be easy.

        I for one didn't get my music collection from iTunes, because I saw these strings attached to going along that rout. I actually buy CDs and burn them to MP3 format. But I know people who have bought tons of songs in iTunes and they wouldn't consider buying another MP3 player because they feel locked in to iTunes and ther iPods.

        Now, if that is not evidence of Apple abusing their position of power to shut out the competition I don't know what is.
        tikigawd
        • Actually...continued

          There is a function in iTunes that allows for conversion off AAC files to mp3 but if you had bothered to spend any time in the program, you would have known that.

          Mock not what you don't understand.
          SigmaX
        • actually

          ... you can convert songs without burning them to CD. i'm always surprised when
          people say its "easy to convert, just burn to CD then back again", this isn't easy!!

          what is easy though is going to
          preferences
          -> advanced
          -->importing
          ---> change the 'import using' to the format you wish
          click ok

          -> then simply right/control click on any song or selection of songs and click
          "convert slection to______"

          so yes converting is easy, and i'm sorry, four steps cannot be considered difficult,
          and no, itunes/ipod is not a monopoly (read parent post)
          hugo007
          • I have found that it depends...

            ... on which platform you're using. I like Windows MediaPlayer 10&11, but could not handle MP4, so I tried iTunes since I had a couple of very old iMac G3's - one with OS 9, the other OS X. I discovered that I could have crossfading and sound leveling. I tried installing it on my XP laptop and it has nearly the same effect/features. Later I discovered that an MP3 song would not burn to a traditional CD because M$/CreatorClassic could not use the MP3 code (unsupported format). I remembered that iTunes had the ability to "save as" or "export" or somehow make an MP3 from another format; it just didn't do that in the Windows version.

            I decided to create an MP4 in Windows (iTunes), then save it to the external disk I use for the iMac. Then I pulled in those selections on the iMac and, sure enough, it did allow me to create its own form of MP3, which I then opened in the CreatorClassic and created the CD just fine.

            MY point is: iTunes is not iTunes, is not iTunes. It has similar features in the two platforms, but some very real differences. I don't think it is all that monopolistic, as the article suggests, but that's perhaps a matter of conflicting definitions. I do not own, nor have I intentions of of owning an iPod. I do not like their tactics with regard to the iPod not being that interchangable, and I do not like the QuickTime pushiness and hawking methods, but I have been able to live with iTunes ala carte.

            To me it depends on how one approaches the products/issue; if, like I, one is ripping their own purchased CD's to MP3, then using an old iMac to play them with crossfade because their other older Windows 98 machines which only run Windows MediaPlayer 9, which does not support crossfading, I can live with that. For those who want to believe all the hype and then end up hating iPod and Apple for getting stung by the lack of usability as they had assumed and expected.

            I had realistic dislike(s) for the iPod when it first came out. I had tried to warn a family member who was sure her child "really wanted" an iPod. I tried to explain that it would end up not being used at all or being twice as expensive to use. I was right; the unit sat, unused, for over a year, until another kid came over and taught their kid how to hack the system. Now the iPod is "too small". Imagine what they'll want this year???

            It's OK, all the same to me; these kids collect songs more than their pizza parties collect zits. There's not enough time to actually listen to all the selections - to say nothing of having time for school work; but that's another story.
            Media-Ted@...
        • Okay...

          "Now, if that is not evidence of Apple abusing their position of power to shut out
          the competition I don't know what is."

          I agree with you, sort of.

          It's NOT evidence of Apple abusing their position of power, and you DON'T
          recognize true monopoly behavior.


          Let me put this in familiar terms.

          Suppose Apple iTunes held a dominate position on 90% of the computers in use,
          (close enough).

          Suppose some business partner like, say, HP, decided to put their own competing
          MP3 player/software package out there (they did, fairly recently. It was an HP
          branded iPod).

          Suppose Apple at once contacted HP and told them to back off, or Apple would
          modify iTunes so it would erase the competing music software on user install.

          And further still, Apple would alter the .AAC format so it wouldn't run on the HP
          MP3 player, and couldn't be converted to MP3 in any way.

          Now, IF that had taken place, you could make the argument that Apple was using
          it's market dominance to force out competitors.

          By programming iTunes to forcibly delete any competitive music software, and
          altering .AAC so other MP3 players can never use songs purchased from iTunes,
          Apple could have squashed other entrants into the field.

          Of course, none of that ever happened.

          Apple joyfully entered into contract with HP to provide them with HP branded iPods.

          It was HP's decision to drop out, a choice which I regret. It must have made
          business sense for them, I guess.

          Apple's iTunes runs on any Windows compatible computer without prejudice. The
          more the merrier !

          And .AAC can be converted to MP3 with ease, as other posters have mentioned.

          So if you purchase songs from iTunes, run them on whatever player, Apple doesn't
          care.


          Now, this is NOT monopolistic behavior.

          BTW, if you didn't get the analogy, I was referring to Microsoft's tactics against
          Netscape Navigator, and the way Internet Explorer used to forcibly set itself as the
          default web browser on OS 9 EVERY time it was run.
          Jkirk3279
    • Lock-in isn't monopoly

      There's nothing to suggest that Apple has beaten the pants off its competitors
      through anything other than convincing lots of people that what they have is better.
      Given that most of the digital music on people's players is self-ripped, non-DRM
      stuff in non-proprietary MP3/AAC formats, the switching costs here are remarkably
      low.

      There are tons of competing players and a number of competing software options
      out there. The market reality is that people haven't chosen them so often.

      A parallel to this argument would be to say that MS is showing monopolistic
      behavior by creating software that doesn't run under the Mac OS, locking people in
      through an additional switching cost (buying all new software). They are, in fact,
      under no obligation to make ANYTHING for any particular OS, anymore than Apple
      is obligated to make iPods work with anything but iTunes. If the market doesn't
      demand it, why should they?
      john@...
      • You're probably righ

        for now, but it really depends on how things go in the future. If Apples market share continues to increase, and aside from MS, nobody even does much advertising, so surely Apple's lead will continue to increase, they will eventually be considered a monopoly.

        You can't beat a company with well over half the market by word of mouth. That was Rio's tactic with the Karma, and we all know how that worked out for Rio.

        The only flaw in my theory is if Universal's split from iTunes works and the availability of crappy sound files (i.e. lossy) in other formats convinces more people to buy alternative DAPs.

        For me, it's a non issue, because I don't buy lossy files, but if you only listen to music on a DAP, then CD's are irrelevant, since you'd need very expensive IEMs or bulky headphones to hear the spectrum of sounds that AAC, MP3 and WMA generally lop off.
        notsofast
    • Where the hell were you when itunes launched???

      Seriously Adrian.... Where the hell were you when itunes launched???

      Do you even recall it? Anything about it? Or were you busy ripping and sharing mp3s on Napster???

      Everyone scoffed and laughed at Apple... "No one is going to pay .99 a song when they can get it for free".


      The online music store is a business that Apple created... Period. And they did it in the face of mass scepticism and ridicule... They created a market...

      In the digital music player world there is an ipod catagory and an all other catagory... How many things today have coppied apple an called a product i-something? Apple kept ahead of all the rip offs and built an empire by offering great service at a great price and the best digital music players hands down. They offered the value that consumers want. They made them slimmer and smaller and at the same time set the bar for storage and cost. How many companies are out there trying like hell to get one little nibble of a market that apple created out of thin air and incredible vision??? Problem is, they can't beat apple... they lack the vision to create so all they can do is mimic and complain that there is a company that does it better than they can. Apple is always first to market because of their vision.

      That is not a monopoly, it is damn good business.

      They are not doing monopolistic practices to keep competition away, they are simply doing business... why on earth do you feel they should share iTunes with other digital music players??? Those were the companies that were scoffing at the idea of an online music store and predicting doom and failure.. none of them tried to form an alliance with apple and help to build the market together... None of those companies put out the investment risk for a market that did not exist and was ridiculed and laughed at... none of them went in on it. Apple walked in that uncharted territory all alone and it was either going to be sucess or failure. And now that it is sucess, you want to call them a monopoly??? Dude.. Go look up the definition of a monopoly... Go pick up a book about Andrew Carnagie.
      i8thecat
      • Best?

        Maybe they are now, but they certainly weren't at the time...they were the most popular, but popular != best.

        I have no idea how their sound quality is now, but it was pretty lousy 2 or 3 years ago. And 5 or 6 years on, they still don't have a decent EQ built into the player.

        What they do have is Gapless (added 3 or 4 years after Rio implemented and by most accounts not quite as good as Rio's implementation).

        As for skepticism, I don't recall that.

        Nevertheless, the fact that you can't take your iTunes songs to any other player, without doing a LOSSY conversion means they're using their store to lock you into the player.

        For now, I don't think it matters, because the vast majority of music is still purchased on CDs. But if that changes, and Apple is the company with 70% of the market, it'll be found to be a monopoly.

        Honestly guy, if you use your analogy, then MS isn't a monopoly. They got into the computer software and later the OS business and made it what it is today

        Finally APple wasn't alone. Are you joking? Creative, Rio and Iriver were all in the business [b]long[/b] before the first ipod hit the streets. How long is long? Iriver was the last of the 3 and they were in it 2 years before Apple.

        What apple did was advertise. They ran a great marketing campaign, and created an attractive package for their DAP. They deserve credit, but the credit they deserve is, for the most part, the same thing that many deride MS for: marketing and succeeding on other companies innovations.

        It took Apple 2 years AFTER Rio was dismantled and sold off by Denon to put out a player that came close to the quality of the Karma. that's 3 or 4 years after that device was released.

        With that said, they probably are the best right now, but that speaks more to the lack of innovation than to anything apple as done on the music front (as opposed to the packaging front).
        notsofast
  • And the EASY solution is

    Don't buy an ipod and don't bother with itunes. Just pick one of the hundreds of competitors to ipod, get your music from one of the myriad other sources of music, and use whatever app you want to manage that music.

    Now lets start bitching about the FREE included software that's necessary for me to use my HP all in one. I can't believe that I'm forced to use this FREE included software just to get my device to work. Oh! The horrors!
    j.m.galvin
    • Actually

      As was mentioned on the last thread regarding this topic, you don't need that software. Oddly, the HP AIO was the item mentioned last time as well, but the same is true for other hardware as well. Alternatives are available for Linux and Windows PCs, maybe Macs but that wasn't mentioned. So, no, you [b]aren't[/b] forced to use the included software, and the alternatives are free too.
      laura.b
      • What takes the cake

        [i]So, no, you aren't forced to use the included software, and the alternatives are free too.[/i]

        The truth is that alternatives have been created for the iPod too. The difference is that HP has never actively tried to change their hardware so it broke the free alternatives. Apple has. [b]BIG DIFFERENCE![/b]
        NonZealot
        • What takes the cake is a fat man at a Birthday party!

          Apple as a monopoly (which I don't agree it is) does not
          have to allow Real or anyone to jump in it's pool. As a
          Monopoly the only responsibility Apple has is to not use
          it's power to crush REAL and as far as I know REAL is
          well still very REAL. Maybe REAL should stop trying to
          leach off Apple and create it's own thing? Maybe find a
          different way.... though I grant you that has not been
          too successful to date but hey Apple gave it a try and
          found a way but there could be others. Maybe try to
          copy Apple but with a twist or at the very least do it
          better something Apple is famous for. However the one
          thing REAL and others should not do is assume that
          Apple will willingly allow them to LEACH off of what is
          Apple's.

          Pagan jim
          Laff
          • Glad you agree that MS has always acted just like Apple!

            [i]Apple as a monopoly (which I don't agree it is) does not
            have to allow Real or anyone to jump in it's pool.[/i]

            So you disagree with the EC when they forced Microsoft to remove WMP from Windows because Real wanted to leech off MS's success with Windows? Maybe Real should have, instead, built their own computers and their own OS that would only run Real?

            Why do you think MS should be punished yes Apple is to be commended for doing [b]the exact same thing[/b]?
            NonZealot
          • Including it in the package is one thing

            Not allowing it to be uninstalled is another. And I say that about both MS and Apple.
            Michael Kelly
          • different situations

            1) You're comparing an operating system with an mp3 player? Bit of a difference I think?

            2) Microsoft is a convicted monopolist. Therefore they have to play by different rules, especially when their actions can be construed as limiting competition. I don't know that I agree with the EC on this point however.
            meelder
          • No

            [i]You're comparing an operating system with an mp3 player? Bit of a difference I think?[/i]

            Actually, there is no difference in the eyes of the law and he didn't compare an OS to an mp3 player, he compared a Media player to MP3 player software, a very reasonable comparison.

            [i]Microsoft is a convicted monopolist. Therefore they have to play by different rules, especially when their actions can be construed as limiting competition.[/i]

            Firstly, everyone has to play by the rules.

            Secondly, you can't be convicted of being a monopolist. You can't be convicted of anti-trust violations. Microsoft was found to be a monopolist (not a crime) and was found liable in a civil court for anti-trust violations. There is a difference. In addition, until they were sued and found to be a monopoly, they weren't one....so this differs how? Microsoft allegedly had a monopoly, got sued, and was found to factually have a monopoly, whereas Apple allegedly has a monopoly, got sued, and the results aren't in yet? I fail to see the distinction between the two scenarios...they sound identical to me.
            laura.b