I’ve received feedback that I should be as critical of Apple with its “monopoly” on the music industry (based on the iPod and iTunes) as I am with Microsoft. But I disagree: Apple will never be like the Evil Empire. The iPod/iTunes combination does not hamper innovation the way the Windows/Office monopoly does. This is really a case of comparing apples with lemons.
Rob Glaser of RealNetworks has once again denounced Apple for not making the iPod compatible with music services other than Apple’s iTunes. Glaser has called for the music industry to pressure Jobs into opening up the iPod to other online music vendors.
People forget how much of a risk Apple took with the iPod and with the iTunes store. That risk paid off, and some industry people are just unhappy about that. Why couldn’t a company like Sony produce something as good, or better, than an iPod? Why couldn’t Sony then create a store that undersells iTunes? After all, Sony owns at least one-fifth (if not more) of all the music in the world, which should give it an advantage over Apple, which owns no music.
The problem is the lack of vision at companies like Sony, and the nature of the DRM technology these companies choose. Microsoft’s version of DRM invades your privacy — it collects info about any CD you rip, any DVD you play, and reports that info back to Microsoft. Apple’s FairPlay only reports back music you buy from iTunes. In short, Apple’s FairPlay is a more elegant, consumer-friendly solution than Microsoft’s. Companies like Sony should either choose the right solution or come up with one of their own. They don’t have the vision (and risk-taking attitude) that Apple has.
How difficult would it be, really, for a company to invent a better FairPlay-like system, license the music, and invent a stylish, useful player? Isn’t that the equivalent of what Apple did with the Mac back in the 1980s?
Apple’s reign with iTunes may be short anyway, due to the fact that it must continually license this music and negotiate price points with the music labels (including Sony). Those labels are pressuring Apple to change its pricing. The record labels are the true monopolies in this situation.