July 16, 2009
Apple just plugged the software hole that let owners of the new Pre smart phone sync with iTunes, and Palm Inc. is crying foul. I'm siding with Apple on this one.There'd be no iPod without its exclusive access to iTunes. I know it's a beautiful little device, and the cool of the Apple brand is so pervasive that the dangling white cords of its earbuds are a fashion statement. But I've long maintained that the brilliance of Apple's branding is in the user experience; the elegance of its look-and-feel form, and that of its marketing communications, follows the function of what it builds and sells.
iTunes debuted almost a year before the first iPod, and it provided breakthrough, legal access to music. Its interface was better and easier than the competition (from less complexity, to more good looks). Sure, there were other ways to sample, rip, stream, or otherwise manipulate mp3s, but iTunes made the idea of creating a "digital library" of music not only understandable, but doable, at least for those of us who still worried that our computers were somehow poised to self-destruct if we pushed the wrong buttons. iTunes was, and is, a different animal, and it enabled iPod to be something more than just a better-looking device with more storage capacity. Together, they form a system, in a useful and reliable way to which few other technology offerings reach, let alone aspire. It's truly a music service that gets music from the ether, and into your ears. You can have your issues with Apple (DRM is unfair, the system should be open, whatever), and there are many legitimate alternate ways to enjoy digital music. iTunes/iPod is just one way to do it, but it happens to offer a sum that is greater than its parts. And that sum is what the Apple brand is all about. So I say open schmopen. Without iTunes, iPod is just another gizmo. There are a lot of devices on the market these days that don't offer the unique experience of the iPod, even if they try to look like they do. The Pre is one of them. Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.
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