iTunes – an eco-system which is also a jailer-octopus to fear?
The notion that iTunes, which many consider the epitome of a successful technological eco-system, is simultaneously a jailer and an octopus to fear may seem fanciful. It is not. While there is no doubt that Apple has taken great pains to develop its highly successful ecosystem, which the iTunes Store is, there are less positive aspects to consider, ones which escape most. Today the iTunes Store is a huge distribution hub for selling a vast range of digital content (whether TV, video, music, books, photos or whatever). Whether on the iPad or on refreshed generations of iPods, iPhones and Apple TVs, iTunes is taken for granted by most users of Apple’s products. Indeed it is a requirement to initiate various actions and even devices (though this will change somewhat when the iCloud arrives later in 2011). In other words, iTunes is deliberately pretty much irresistible if you want to obtain the most from your Apple product. On your computer or device iTunes is your own local ‛digital content warehouse’. But it is also Apple’s own extension into your personal environment. In effect your iPhone or iPad or iPod (or even Apple TV) are merely users of this local digital warehouse – rather than devices that operate in their own right. You may or manot like this: but that is how it is. That said, iTunes has:
- two major merits – it is free and you can use it irrespective of whether you buy an iPhone or iPad (or any other of the iPod family) plus it has its own deeply developed ecosystem as represented through that enormous range of products and providers found in the iTunes Store
- one equally singular demerit: in many ways iTunes is a jailer – through the ways in which it obliges you to conform to its (Apple’s) view of what you should do and how you must do it and where you should buy.
Within this context, iTunes has three primary purposes. It performs as:
- the Apple multi-purpose application which is the digital media player/organizer that – whether on Windows or OS X – you use to distribute, play and organize digital content (music, movies, videos, ebooks and much else)
- the only Apple-recognized interface for starting and managing the contents of iPhones and iPads (as well as iPods and iPod Touches): you still cannot start to use an iPhone or iPad without possessing iTunes running on a Windows or an OS X equipped computer, however vexatious this may be
- the Apple-designated mechanism to connect (via the Internet) to Apple’s iTunes Store where only through iTunes can you buy and download that music, those videos, television shows, apps, games, audio-books, ebooks, podcasts, feature-length movies and movie rentals and even ringtones (the latter at the moment, as you might expect, for the iPhone only).
Of these three it may be that the first is the most important to Apple. In effect iTunes delivers to you your ‛data content management system’ – which is for use for all your digital content before you link with an iPhone or iPad (or iPod for that matter) about which Apple knows pretty much everything. This notion that iTunes is the manager of your digital content is essential to its (Apple’s) control of how and what you do with your iPhone or iPad or iPod. A more telling analogy is, perhaps, that the iTunes Store is Apple’s own carefully evolved octopus which:
- has the iTunes Store as the (octopus’) body
- uses the Internet as its tentacles
- has sucker pods (iTunes on your computer and/or device) placed at the heart of your digital content management.
Apple would like this jailer-octopus ecosystem to continue expanding so that it both delivers (via the iTunes Store) and manages (via iTunes on Windows or OS X) all your digital content – from videos, TV, music, apps, and now publications. It hopes that, for example, its iBooks capability will rise to be as successful as its music and apps business – though Amazon (for one) and Barnes and Noble (for another) are more than resisting well (q.v. ‘Amazon hoists Apple by its own HTML5 petard?’ – http://www.constellationrg.com/21691/amazon-hoists-apple-by-its-own-html… ) Whether, once you consider what Apple knows about your digital content (and you), you wish this to continue is quite a different matter. What is worse, others aspire to be emulate Apple. Amazon is one possibility. Samsung (with its feeble Kies iTunes-look-a-like) is another. Sony a third (also with a feeble offering). What can you do? Make sure that not everything is sourced from one jailer-octopus. Exercise vigorously your ability to choose between vendors. That should keep everyone honest and in productive competition.