BizReport: ‘Concerns over compatibility’ among online music formats ‘seem to be increasing’

“Those who argue that legal downloading is just as good as file swapping, for a small fee, face an uncomfortable reality: Concerns over compatibility among the various players and digital formats — known as ‘interoperability’ — seem to be increasing,” David McGuire writes for BizReport.

MacDailyNews Take: Concerns “seem” to be increasing? Consumers’ concerns? We’d like some hard data and facts backing this up, please. These ‘concerns’ are almost certainly increasing for every business trying to compete with Apple.

“For example, Napster to Go users are told that for $5 a month extra, they can take their downloaded sounds wherever they want to go — unless their portable player is an iPod, because iPods aren’t compatible with the Microsoft software that Napster uses to protect the playlists,” McGuire writes.

MacDailyNews Take: So what?

“With each player and service using slightly different file formats, standards and security tools, users may have less freedom to use their music than they think. IPod owners who buy music from iTunes might get a shock if they buy new devices from Creative Labs or Dell and try to pull their iTunes songs onto them,” McGuire writes.

MacDailyNews Take: Pod owners who would buy a Creative or Dell device (all three of them) would likely get bigger shocks for many other reasons than trying to put iTunes Music Store-purchased songs on them.

“‘That is something that we struggle with and it is a definite obstacle. I hope at some point digital music will be simpler in that respect, but I think that’s still a long way off,’ Napster’s Harris said. Wolpert [RealNetworks’ Rhapsody’s chief strategy officer] called interoperability concerns ‘potentially the biggest obstacle to mass consumer adoption,'” McGuire writes.

MacDailyNews Take: It’s an obstacle for Napster and a concern for RealNetworks, not consumers. Consumers have already made and continue to make their choice in ever-increasing numbers. Napster et al. just don’t like the choice consumers have made.

“Sony’s Hesse and EMI’s Cohen say that they may need to lean on the retailers to make their services more interoperable. ‘I think we need to make significant strides in 2005 to improve that situation,’ Hesse said,” McGuire writes.

MacDailyNews Take: Why? For whose benefit?

“The company that did the most to get legal downloading off the ground may also be the lead weight on a market whose consumers like to shift among different players and services, taking their libraries with them,’ McGuire writes.

MacDailyNews Take: “Consumers like to shift among different players and services?” What percentage of consumers? Again, we’d like some actual proof of this, please. We can just as easily write that consumers like quality players that come in a wide range of sizes and prices that work seamlessly with an online music service that offers a large library with consistent prices. At least we’d have iPod+iTunes market share and unit sales to back us up.

“In addition to shutting out Napster, Apple also prompts iPod owners to use iTunes as their PC media player and online music store, making it difficult or even impossible to buy tracks from other retailers and move them directly to their devices,” McGuire writes.

MacDailyNews Take: Awww, ain’t that just too bad?

McGuire writes, “About 90 percent of the hard-drive-based music players sold in the United States are iPods, according to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. ‘Apple has opted to keep iPod proprietary and not let people who own them choose how they want to get digital music,’ [Napster’s] Harris said.”

MacDailyNews Take: Waa, waa, waa! Then make a better, more compelling player and music store combination and stop whining like a little girl, Mr. Harris.

McGuire writes, “Representatives for Apple reached by telephone and e-mail repeatedly declined to be interviewed for this story. While its adherence to a proprietary model may eventually become an obstacle to widespread adoption, Apple’s strategy is sound business and unlikely to change any time soon, said Gartner G2 analyst Mike McGuire. ‘In a perfect world it would all be interoperable, and everybody would make money, but in a market-driven world, is there a business case to be made for making the iPod interoperable? I don’t know,’ McGuire said. Apple chief Steve Jobs ‘is doing what any business would do,’ he added.”

MacDailyNews Take: Finally, a voice of reason appears.

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: The amount of tears coming from the also-rans as Apple whips them unmercifully could fill Lake Mead by now. By the way, the de facto standard for digital online music files is Apple’s protected MPEG-4 Audio (.m4p).

Related MacDailyNews articles:
Dell CEO: Apple can’t just have one product and then say they’re the innovative leader of the world – February 22, 2005
Napster CEO Gorog: ‘it’s stupid to buy an iPod’ – February 10, 2005
Report: Napster faces uphill fight to gain share, Apple prepared to run iTunes at a loss – February 10, 2005
Napster’s ‘iPodlessness’ doesn’t bode well for its future – February 10, 2005
$10,000 to fill an iPod? Napster’s going to end up with egg on their face – February 04, 2005
Why ‘Napster To Go’ will flop – February 03, 2005
Napster CEO: We’re ‘the biggest brand in digital music, much more exciting than Apple’s iTunes’ – February 03, 2005
BusinessWeek: Rather than dismissing Apple products as fads, Dell should try starting a few – January 31, 2005
RealNetworks’ CEO Rob Glaser grabs 3 of top 10 spots on ‘Dumbest Moments in Business 2005’ list – January 31, 2005
Dismissive Dell CEO not impressed with Apple Mac mini, calls iPod a ‘one-product wonder’ and a ‘fad’ – January 17, 2005
Creative CEO: Apple iPod shuffle ‘a big let-down, worse than the cheapest Chinese player’ – January 12, 2005
Creative declares ‘war’ on Apple iPod, shoots for 40% market share of MP3 players – December 21, 2004
Creative Technology declares ‘MP3 War’ against market-dominating Apple iPod – November 17, 2004
Bono-Glaser photo caption contest now open – October 25, 2004
Real’s CEO Glaser: ‘Harmony’ hack legal, Mac lovers are very sensitive to Apple criticism, and more – September 14, 2004
Analyst: Rob Glaser’s ill-advised war against Apple ‘is going to bite RealNetworks on the ass’ – August 30, 2004
RealNetwork’s CEO Glaser crashes Apple’s music party – July 30, 2004
Real CEO Glaser: Steve Jobs’ comments on Real ‘not succeeding’ are ‘ridiculously humorous’ – April 29, 2004
NY Times: Real CEO Glaser was close to having ‘iPod’ before Apple, but let it ‘slip through his fingers – April 24, 2004
Real’s CEO Glaser: Apple’s iPod/iTunes combo ‘threatens to turn off consumers’ – April 20, 2004
Jobs to Glaser: go pound sand – April 16, 2004
Real CEO Glaser begs Apple to make iPod play nice with other music services – March 24, 2004
Real CEO Glaser: ‘iTunes is only going to be used for playing songs you bought using the iTunes store – January 16, 2004


  1. Isn’t Microsoft’s media format and DRM proprietary? What about Sony’s or RealNetwork’s? And isn’t AAC an open format? It’s just the FairPlay DRM that is the “proprietary” part that they have choosen to be very particular about who to license to and for what purpose, right? (ie: cell phones)

  2. “Beta is forever. It’s our word of honor. The word of Sony.”

    — Quoted from a full page December 30, 1988 advertisement in “La Estrella de Panama”

  3. Concerns over compatibility among the various players and digital formats — known as ‘interoperability’ — seem to be increasing.

    You know, I bought a shitload of music on 8-tracks back in the 70’s and not a damn one of them will play on my CD players today. Can I buy an 8-track player today? Or in the last 15-20 years for that matter? No.

    You don’t hear me whining about it. Life is tough. Get a helmet.


  4. so far I’ve been paying about $20 a month for my ipod. I’ve bought some music from itunes. My ipod won’t last forever. Assuming I want to keep my music mobile (and I don’t burn and re-rip this music), i’ll have to keep buying ipods. Right now they maybe be the best, but probably not forever. Do I want to be forced to always buy an ipod to play the music that I bought?
    This will eventually be a concern. So why not start thinking about it now. You guys sound like windows users.

    Old Dude, if your 8-track player breaks, and you replace that Foreigner tape with a cd, who does that benefit? Not you, the record company. As consumers, we should hope for a standard as soon as possible.

  5. These other companies should be innovating instead of belittling their competition and whining and complaining.

    Apple has been quietly innovating their butts off the past few years with new products appearing very regularly, and it’s starting to pay off in a big way. Hopefully the momentum will continue. Of course, they’re also making lots of money in the interim, so who knows what developments are being held back.

    It’s funny, but one of their “innovations” was to make an MP3 player which stored lots of music and operate in a simple way.

    Can’t the competition do that?

  6. Oh the humanity!… God, what a bunch of whiners.

    Doens’t reals system only work on like 3 models of all the MP3/WMA players out there.

    Talk about choice. The real (pun intended) is to take away our tunes and make you have to pay to play, forever and ever. It’s not about choice.

    Let real die a natural death. The threat to the iTunes/iPod/purchase songs model isn’t competition, but regulation and these people are setting the stage to force “interopability”, probably at the detriment to Apples sensible approach.

    A couple of more lawsuits by “damaged” consumers tricked into buying iTunes songs and then forced to buy an iPod, backed by M$ money and homeland security will do the trick.

  7. It’s not iTunes that is not compatable it’s the rest of them. iTunes supports Mac and Windows users. The rest of them only support Windows users. Maybe that’s why Apple is dominating the market. Not to mention having the best MP3 player and easyist to use without a doubt.
    And I prefer to buy my music not rent it like what Napster is doing.

  8. most (but not all) of the analogies given here are quite pointless because they aren’t even comparing the same thing, and so shouldn’t even be called analogies. Snow and skateboard wheels, 8-track and Cd player? Those don’t really have anything in common with the situation discussed here. You might as well ask why you can’t use your printer to make phone calls.

    Imagine if you bought a CD and when you tried to play it on your Sony CD player found out that it only works on Panasonic. Or if you bought a DVD and found out that if you wanted to play it you had to copy it to your computer first and convert it to a format that your DVD player will understand before you can view it. Interoperability IS for the benefit of the consumer. iTunes doesn’t and won’t ever have all the music in the world. Eventually, when CD’s become outdated, what do you do if you want to purchase an album that iTunes doesn’t have? It is very important to have a standard that is not limited to only one company.

    It’s not like Apple is making money on selling songs. They should eventually license out Fairplay so that other stores will not be forced to side with Microsoft. And I don’t think it would have an impact on iPod sales.

  9. Hey b,
    who said: “Do I want to be forced to always buy an ipod to play the music that I bought? “

    Burn your iTunes bought tracks to a music disk. As opposed to AAC files on disk. Takes up more disks, but you now have those tunes to do with as you please twenty years from now. Do one a day and you’re good to go.

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