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Microsoft Might Be Unable To Break Into Apple's iTunes Prison

Is it just coincidence that Microsoft's begrudging acceptance of open source, as slow, uneven and controversial as it has been, has coincided with the company's fall from its perch atop the technology mountain? Maybe, but there's no doubt that Apple, the company that has unseated Microsoft, has won its place as the world's most valuable company by also being the world's least flexible and most proprietary.

It has long been the case that a user who wants something from Apple has to get almost everything else from the company, too. Apple is about as open as a Border's bookstore. Once inside the company's gilded cage, it's hard to escape. That's fine most of the time because Apple's stuff famously just works. But there are a few exceptions, and one of them is iTunes. Great as it might be on the Mac, iTunes is an unstable and clunky resource gobbler on the PC. Still, once a user buys into iTunes -- and most have by now -- it's not usually worth the time and effort to get away from it and move to something else, even if the software does tend to crash like Duke in this year's NCAA basketball tournament.

No matter how bad iTunes might be outside its home court of the Mac, it's still the de facto organizer for most music and lots of longer videos. And of the many reasons Windows 8 might fail on tablets, it's likely near the top of the list. At this point, Apple doesn't seem interested in making a version of iTunes for Windows 8 tablets, meaning the user who's really into multimedia will either have to figure out some way to migrate (read: escape) from the software or just give up and buy an iPad.

iTunes is the one prison an outsider -- Microsoft, in this case -- would like to break into. But the guards at the gate are even tougher on visitors than they are on inmates. There seems to be no compelling reason for Apple to produce a version of iTunes for Windows 8's Metro interface, and there's little point in Microsoft trying to come up with an alternative, not matter how much better it might be. iTunes has Google-like brand recognition at this point and a fairly literal stranglehold on its user base.

All of this might sound a bit fluffy and consumer-focused, but folks who bring iPads to work are consumers, too. And while partners might -- just might -- be able to convince customers of Microsoft's tablet-readiness for the enterprise, it would be a bit like trying to sell a great car that only came with a tape deck (remember those?) or maybe with just a CD player and no iPod hookup. You see where we're going with this.

What are Microsoft and partners to do about this quandary? We have no idea. It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario. It would be great if Microsoft could convince Apple that iTunes for Windows 8 Metro would be a great revenue driver (sort of like Office for Mac), but why would it? Nobody has bought a single Windows 8 tablet, while the iPad remains the Beatles circa 1964 of the technology industry. And with iTunes adding to its list of inmates all the time, where's the motivation for the industry's most closed company to suddenly open itself to a longtime competitor? We don't see it, either. Just as we don't see our music on iTunes because it just crashed again on our PC. But that doesn't really matter, does it?

What's your take on the importance of iTunes to Windows 8's tablet success? Send it to lpender@rcpmag.com or leave a comment below

Posted by Lee Pender on March 19, 2012 at 11:56 AM

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Reader Comments

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 David San Diego, CA

I would give my left arm for something better than iTunes. I just recently gave in and bought an iPhone AND iPad and am mad that I didn't do so earlier, but I HATE iTunes. It's confusing, buggy, and a resource hog. When I want to do something on the iPhone, it's intuitive and I can usually figure it out within minutes. With iTunes, I have to Google everything. I don't understand why Microsoft hasn't targeted the Windows Phone to the enterprise. Blackberry is dead, dead, dead. IT Admins want something manageable and secure. The company I work for, (#1 largest bank in country) still forces Blackberry's on us. They will allow us to have an iPhone, but without iTunes and the appStore, and they lock the user from 3rd party apps...uhhh, hello, I might as well go back to my 1992 StarTac. I truly believe the culprit is iTunes. It is evil, evil, evil.

Mon, Mar 19, 2012

First off... Lee, nice job presenting a much more balanced and far less alarmist article than your other recent work. It is fair to raise questions. It is not fair to say that all is lost just because you don't understand a particular marketing or product development strategy. I think your observations on iTunes are valid. However, you're forgetting just how big a player XBOX is. XBOX is what AppleTV wishes it could be (but will never be). You know Microsoft has something when an HBO-Go TV ad specifically and only mentions XBOX LIVE. Another thing to consider is Amazon and their media system. If the Zune store doesn't generate enough revenue, Microsoft *could* decide to bite the bullett and allow Amazon a spot on the XBOX LIVE system. That would give MS a solid ally against Apple.

Mon, Mar 19, 2012 Todd Girvin Dallas, TX

Anyone who runs iTunes on the PC and the Zune app (like I do) realizes how much better an experience Zune delivers. I only run iTunes because of my iPhone and I only have an iPhone because my car has a nice control interface for the iPod side of it. But anyone else with a PC and a car that has a nice Bluetooth connection will be happier and wealthier with a mobile carrier that costs less than ATT or Verizon, a Windows Phone, and the Zune software. MS has an opportunity to catch up if Apple doesn't do the port. The iPod was breakthrough, but it's dead now that multi-function phones are here. Time for iTunes to die, too.

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