The de facto standard for legal digital online music files: Apple’s protected MPEG-4 Audio (.m4p)

“The only surprising thing about the fact that Apple Computer has now locked RealNetworks out of the iPod is that it took so long for it to happen,” Arik Hesseldahl writes for

MacDailyNews Take: Well, one other thing that’s somewhat surprising is that it took so long for anybody to notice. That has to tell you something about Real’s sales to iPod photo owners at least.

Hesseldahl writes, “Apple Computer, you’ll remember, was ‘stunned’ earlier this year by RealNetworks’ creation of Harmony, a downloadable music format that allows its users to play songs on an Apple iPod. Apple, being rather protective of its digital rights management scheme called Fairplay, wasn’t amused, and promptly threatened to lock Harmony users out of the iPod with a forthcoming software update.”

“That is precisely what Apple has started to do. The software released with its iPod Photo music player renders songs encoded in the Harmony format unplayable. You probably can expect a renewed cat-and-mouse game, but with luck RealNetworks Chief Executive Robert Glaser has learned his lesson about picking a public relations fight with Apple and its CEO, Steve Jobs. And if it can be done on the iPod Photo, it likely can be done just as easily with a software update to other iPod models,” Hesseldahl writes. “Still, there’s a bigger question at stake here, and eventually Apple is going to have to address it. The music industry wants a unified digital standard…”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Actually, there already is a de facto standard. It’s called MPEG-4 Audio: Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) with the market-dominating FairPlay, Apple’s digital rights management (DRM) system – look for the .m4p file extension in your iTunes Music folder. The Dictionary of Computing defines “de facto standard,” as a widespread consensus on a particular product or protocol which has not been ratified by any official standards body, such as ISO, but which nevertheless has a large market share. The de facto standard for digital online music is an MPEG-4 Audio File (Protected) or .m4p. According to NPD, Apple’s iPod holds nearly 68 per cent of the worldwide music player market and iPod’s share of the US hard drive-based player market is 82 percent. Also according to NPD, Apple’s iTunes Music Store holds 70% market share of the paid music downloading industry.

Click the link below to get yours at Apple’s iTunes Music Store while they last wink :


  1. I guess, at least for me, I would see it more of a standard if more than one online music store was using it (perhaps there are more stores, but hell, I haven’t seen/heard about any of them).

    ITMS happens to be the biggest online music store and by that account, most of the online sales are using m4p as the format, but I’d like it if most of the online stores were using it instead. Compare the number of stores using it, not the number of sales.

    Then it would be the de facto standard. IMHO

  2. The problem I get stuck with is how MacDailyNews justifies that AAC is the best format out there solely because it is so widespread. MDN tends not to be worried about Apple’s low market share because we know that the OS platform is inherently better. Yet they continue to publish a congratulatory article any time anything claims that Mac sales are on the rise, so obviously we want some sort of increased market share.

    Yet at the same time you say “WMA is bad because of it’s low market share.” Well by your theory, if for some reason people start to buy a lot from another Music Store that sells WMA, will you isntead admit that WMA is the best music format out there? And how can you call small market share not a problem for a Mac, but a big problem for a PC, when WMA seems to be MUCH more compatible with computers (i.e. every computer comes with Windows Media Player, but people have to physically download iTunes to play AAC)?

  3. Bob,

    Sorry, but regardless of whether we like it or not, repeat after me… “Windows and MSIE ARE the de-facto standard”. It certainly doesn’t make me sleep any easier at night either…. believe me!

  4. It matters not how many online music stores use a particular format. It matters which format most people use. That is the standard and how many standards come to be standards. Early on, there are usually standards battles (see Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD), but the marketplace will usually determine the real standard (see VHS vs. Beta). Right now, MDN is correct, .m4p is the standard. All others are only trying to unseat the standard (and failing miserably, too).

  5. MS Blaster:
    “How can Apple’s DRM be considered a standard if Apple’s iTunes and iPods are the only players capable of playing them?”

    Variety of sources is not a requirement to be a standard. Most people own iPods and most people buy from iTunes, therefore .m4p is the standard.

  6. Russell,

    How much more difficult is it to download iTunes than it is to download the number of frequent “updates” that are required for WMP and Windows?

    I guess that you don’t have to “physically” download those…

    Come back to us when you have a valid point about the compatibility issue.

    Keep in mind, iTunes and it’s compatible audio formats play on BOTH OS X and Windows… at Apple’s cost. You can’t say the same for Windows and it’s supported formats.

  7. What continues to amaze me is how many writers still seem to be creating their articles about iTune’s and iPod’s amazing market share from the point-of-view that “this can’t be happening, this is Apple we’re talking about”. It’s like their reality shouldn’t allow Apple to be successful in anything.

Reader Feedback

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