“Last summer, computing giant Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced a sweeping push into consumer electronics, releasing over 100 new consumer-oriented products in a single day. The move drew a bit of press attention, but nothing like the front page news assault that Apple Computer generated last week for the comparably weak announcement of expensive new but smaller iPod devices, portable audio players that won’t be available for months. Attempting to latch onto the marketing success of Apple, HP last week made the incredible decision to license Apple’s iPod player and iTunes software, and the move predictably catapulted HP into the spotlight for a day. But as the dust settles, HP’s customers have some hard questions about this decision, questions they’re right to ask. Because, as Microsoft is pointing out, Apple’s technology offerings are an island of incompatibility in an otherwise widely compatible PC world,” Paul Thurrott writes for WinInfo.
“Here’s the problem. Apple’s iPod plays back the popular MP3 audio format, as well as the standard’s based Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) format. But Apple’s online music store sells songs in the more limited Protected AAC format, which is only compatible with Apple iTunes and the Apple iPod, giving users the type of corporate lock-in for which Microsoft is often criticized. Incidentally, RealNetworks’ recently announced RealPlayer 10 also works with the MP3 and AAC formats (and with Windows Media Audio [WMA], RealAudio, and other formats), but Real utilizes yet another completely incompatible version of AAC for its own music store, a format that will not work, naturally, with iTunes or the iPod, or with any other music software. To its credit, however, Real is offering higher quality AAC files than the Apple store, as most customer will likely want to convert these files to the more compatible MP3 format for the short term…In the week that HP announced its blockbuster deal with Apple, Microsoft announced shipping schedules Portable Media Centers and set-top boxes that will remote Media Center PC content–both supported, as usual, by a wide range of hardware companies. Again, choice is what we expect in the PC industry, and it seems like HP has given up this choice for a chance to grab cheap headlines and go with a single, incompatible, portable digital audio hardware vendor,” Thurrott writes.
“Well, on that note, they’ve succeeded. Contrary to the opinions of some Apple fanatics, I don’t personally care which media codecs or platforms win out in the market. But looking at the HP/Apple from a customer-centric point of view, it’s inescapable that HP has made, well, an interesting choice. I hope it’s not one that comes back to bite its millions of customers. That’s the number one concern here,” Thurrott writes. “From Apple’s point of view, of course, the HP deal is a major milestone. Apple’s iPods have sold phenomenally well, and with 30 million paid iTunes Music Store downloads, one could even argue that the Protected AAC format is on a roll by default. But the PC market is many times larger than that figure, and potential music sales to all PC users is of an order of magnitude larger than anything Apple could handle individually. With HP at its side, Apple really does have a chance to change the world, the one thing it had always promised but never really delivered. It will be interesting to see whether these two companies really can work together. If they can, this deal might be remembered as the day everything changed. If they can’t, HP and Apple have just set back the convergence of PCs and consumer electronics an untold number of years. And this, I’m sorry to say, is my fear.”
Full article here.
MacDailyNews Take: The only thing “set back” is Thurrott’s credibility – see the related article below that explains why.