Should Apple open iPod to the world’s programmers?

“Three years ago, the first people to order an Apple iPod – announced as a ‘breakthrough digital device’ on 23 October 2001 – started receiving boxes in the post. Inside were the first models: the white packet-shape that’s now familiar, with a five-gigabyte hard drive – enough for 1,000 songs,” Charles Arthur writes for The Independent.

“Since then, six million have been sold. The newest iPods can store up to 60 Gbytes and display photos, while the product has become a cultural icon, synonymous with ‘digital music player’. Apple commands 90 per cent of the hard-drive player market, and more than 60 per cent of the digital music player market (including cheaper flash memory-based players, which have less storage),” Arthur writes.

“So the question commentators ask is: how soon will Microsoft crush that market share to single digits, as happened with the personal computer market? A more interesting question, asked by software developers who see those six million iPods as an untapped market for a new breed of applications, is: when will Apple open up the iPod platform to other software? I think the answer to these two questions is interlinked: the sooner Apple does the second, the less likely the first will happen; but the longer it delays the second, the more likely the first becomes,” Arthur writes.

“All Apple has to do is publicise the application programming interfaces its teams use to write programs, such as Breakout, Solitaire, Contacts and Calendar for the iPod. But will it? Not soon. Danika Cleary, the head of worldwide iPod product marketing, told me in London last week that the debate has surfaced repeatedly within Apple. ‘But our stance is that right now [the iPod is] very simple and it works the same for everyone,’ she says. ‘We have decided to keep it closed. And basic,” Arthur writes.

“Why? ‘Essentially, it’s a music player,’ she says. ‘We don’t want to spoil the experience.’ Clearly the worry within Apple is that outside programs might mess up the working of the machine – and that Apple would get the blame. Microsoft is familiar with this: Windows is often blamed for glitches that are down to badly written (or just malicious) outside programs,” Arthur writes. “Without becoming a platform, the iPod won’t achieve long-term dominance (say, over five or 10 years) even while keeping sizeable market share. But there’s still time for Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, to change his mind.”

Full article, with much more such as why not opening the iPod to other music stores and WMA is not comparable to Apple’s decision to keep Mac OS to itself instead of licensing it way back when, and more here.


  1. “…So the question commentators ask is: how soon will Microsoft crush that market share to single digits,…”

    Just as soon as MicroCrap can convince the public, how much fun “rebuffering” is !!

  2. apple can open up slowly.. they’re doing it with partners etc, working in conjuction..

    kinda like China opening up to Democracy.. it takes time.. if you do it all at once, you’ll get anarchy and exploitation

  3. My, those crystal balls just keep working overtime, don’t they!

    Maybe they can also tell us who shot J.R. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />

  4. I personally would like the ability to add and edit contacts and calendar, play more games, add the ability to delete a song (or all songs from a playlist) OFF the iPod if needed (to reserve space). I’d also like the ability to VIEW the imported photos from the belkin card reader (ie: iPod iPhoto).

    If that means I have to gain that by opening up to world programmers..then I’m fine with that!


  5. Apple won’t open it because the very first progam will run WMA files and the very next one will convert AAC to WMA, then video and the Linux and all the other hellish things Steve has nightmares about.

    I agree though that opening the platform makes it less popular to change the API if a better model is more efficient and effective.

    The iPod is very popular among your average consumer and to open it to techie hacker nerds might dilute the brand once more feature-filled iPod software products begin to hit the market.

    If a more open competitors takes too much market share because of their openness, I’m sure his Steveness would open iPod.

  6. The article talks about opening the iPod operating system to programmers so they can do games, etc. on the iPod, This will transform the iPod from being mainly a music player into something like a PDA and, maybe, some vendors can develop an input device for it.

    Well, that will lead to something like a widescreen, a big screen or a touch screen (Whithout the wheel?) iPod, a bigger iPod (a NeXT Newton?) or whatever, becoming another product, not an awesome music player that became an icon, competing then with the iBook, that is already low-priced piece of wonderful.

    Maybe, eventually, the market will go there, but maybe it is not the right time.

  7. I think SJ just wants a device, not a platform. Its like the playstation or gamecube. They are devices for playing games, not a new computer platform.

    How would this work with the competition? Could others make wannabe iPods? Kinda like Lindows?

  8. Charles Arthur does pretty good for a journalist these days.

    Apple is right to keep the iPod closed until one problem is overcome, inputting information. To easily input as we do with computers the device has to be large enough to accomodate a hand, to easily transport a device it has to be smaller than a hand.

    So we have to await a SUI (Speech/Spoken User Interface) before a device as small as an iPod becomes useful for a broader range of uses.

  9. Rick already basically said what I was going to. This analysis, along with a distinct minority of comments that pop up every once in awhile in various places all operate under this assumption that the iPod has to evolve into a do-everything device — a PDA/Swiss Army knife-like thing — to survive long-term. Personally I think just the opposite. People are buying it in droves because of it’s intelligent, intuitive, classy design that empowers _everyone_ to use it for listening to music, an activity people have engaged in since antiquity, and in a way that enriches the experience on many fronts. (The same now goes for iPod Photo, which works because its inherent features fit with the needs associated with viewing photos, e.g. the scroll wheel is perfect for browsing large albums of photos, and because of the integration with iPhoto and OS X. It is NOT not some junky, disconnected add-on like the author seems to be suggesting).

    Haven’t we tried the kitchen-sink approach already? The perfectly crafted, dedicated, single function (or maybe only a handful of tightly integrated functions) tool approach seems to be working very well, thank-you very much.

  10. I don’t agree with opening it up. I DO agree with Apple adding useful features (like direct downloading off digicams…) at a decent pace. If you want games, etc., then Apple should create a more purposeful device.

    It’s the portability of such massive amounts of data (and using it easily with quality results – listening to music, storing pictures, etc.) that make the iPod such a winner of a device.

    With that in mind, do you see video fitting that bill? No, the quality of it would stink. Could you see using an iPod as your protable home directory? Yes! Easy storage of photos while on vacation? Yes! Listening to vast quantities of music? Yes! Archiving Enderle’s articles? Well….

  11. a 100 gig iPod could very well be the bridge t the client model…

    Imaging storing everything on that player and having the iPod plug into a monitor , etc to run games.. then your comp would really just be in your pocket…

    i’m simplifying things too.. the point is.. it might not be a platform so much as a standard for moving your entire computer/data around… and apple might be considering how that could save people money…

    (I’m thinking a 100gig iPod as storage wouldnt need to be updated every 3 years like a computer)

  12. The greatest thing about the iPod is that it’s simple. If developers are free to start turning it into something it wasn’t designed to be, it won’t be simple anymore. I have no doubt that it won’t always be the “gotta have/fashion statement” device it is now, but when all that dies off, it’s still going to be the best DMP on the market and people will still buy it because they want all their music with them all the time. The only way I can see the iPod really losing serious market share is if some cell phone company makes a phone that can also carry all your music, but the interface is the key. Unless they can make it as simple and reliable as the iPod, both in navigating and interfacing with your computer, that’s not going to happen.

  13. I understand why Apple would be reluctant, being that the main thing about an iPod is the experience and that is something that everyone enjoys, however, I think that giving developers the ability to create games for the iPod, especially the iPod Photo would be great and would add a new level to the total experience. I’d love to have centipede, pacman and tetris on my iPod. I’m sure the iPod is more powerful than the first generation Gameboy, so what’s the problem? Can’t we have a broader selection of games on this baby? Also the ability to do more interms of pictures and music such as visualizations like Goom when an iPod Photo is connected to the television. Also with the advent of PodCasting, they are trying to figure out a way to have pictures displayed during certain parts of the cast. This is doable with 3GPP on cellphones, perhaps this format should be added to the iPod as well.

  14. Blue skies here, but it strikes me that iPod has always been intended as PART of a larger solution. Could it be that iPod=hard drive and another similarly sized device=processor/ram? With a wireless connection, all that’s needed to complete a very useful trio is a remote screen (ANY remote screen!). Perhaps someone who knows far more about these things than me can say?

  15. I’m sure that Apple is taking into concideration the pressure that is mounting by competing devices. The iPod today is where the GameBoy in terms of demain. As you see, Nintendo didn’t stand still on it, and neither is Apple. I think one of the biggest advantages of the iPod other than the user interface is the size and the fact that it has a hard drive. Cell phones are practically given away because they make their money on the service plans. Apple leaves the iPod’s contents to the user. This is where the problem lies where content ownership is concerned. Apple is trying to balance out what the user should be capable of doing/having on the iPod without stepping on the toes of content providers. Keeping the iPod as a digital accessory along with one’s cellphone seems to be the idea, but the future is about simplifying and I’m sure that future models of the Treo will be very iPod like. If I were Apple, I would work with PalmOne to make an iPod Cellphone that would be sold by Cellco’s. This way, there are two distinct branches of the iPod family, one for those that don’t need a cellphone and one for those that do. Less devices, less clutter, less confusion.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.