Steve Wildstrom over at BusinessWeek is generally reliable as hell; I find I’m always agreeing with what he says, and wishing I’d said it. Of course what he writes comes from an American perspective – they still don’t get mobile phones or Bluetooth, for example – but his hit rate is excellent.
Which is why I’m a little surprised by his latest column, The Music Mess: Advantage, Microsoft. He goes over the arguments we’ve heard before: that if you buy something from an online music store that’s not the iTunes Music Store, it won’t play on the iPod. And vice-versa.
Now, before I saw his piece I’d written my column for Wednesday’s paper on where I think the iPod is going. But just to deal with this argument: Yes, Apple has chosen an isolationist course. It supports only FairPlay in its products, and it has been unwilling to license other companies either to build FairPlay-enabled players or to sell FairPlay-protected songs.
One key difference: Apple really owns this market at the moment, and there’s little sign of others getting into it. For each song sold on other music stores, more than two are sold on iTunes. (It’s a 3:7 ratio.) For each non-iPod sold with a hard drive, nine iPods are rung up.
So saying that “Apple has chosen an isolationist course” is like saying Microsoft has chosen an isolationist course with Windows, because you can’t run .exes on Linux or OSX. It’s true, but lacks context.
Even so, Steve W is right on one point: Windows Media will get a growing share of the market. But he’s missing what the followup: Apple can issue a firmware update. Bang! Every iPod in the world will be capable of playing songs from any other music store – as well as those from iTunes. Still sounds like an edge to me.