Music: Why iTunes is the rotten core of Apple

The shiny 3rd gen iPod Shuffle

iPods are everywhere. Over 260million have been sold worldwide, whether they are the cigarette lighter-like Shuffle, the tiny-screened Nano, the app-filled Touch or the tried and tested Classic.

Even the mobile phone market has been infiltrated, with iPhone, and later the 3G and 3GS versions, collectively selling over 51million units, but there are approximately 4.6billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide so Apple still have some way to go to monopolise the market.

The one thing which connects all of these popular devices is the music organisation and player program iTunes, designed to bring the brand together and provide a one-stop-shop for all your music and televisual needs.

But despite Apple’s popularity users are constantly faced with problems with the service such as computers crashing as soon as an iPod is plugged in, sluggish computer speed because of its high memory usage and refusing to burn CDs or freezing at any given moment, depending on the operating system you use.

Despite video iPods now being the norm, iTunes doesn’t support video directly – you’re forced to install Apple’s Quicktime software, and you can’t drag and drop songs from your computer to the player easily, instead you can only ‘Sync’ the iTunes library to your player – or do a ‘Party Mix’ in the case of a Shuffle.

Generally it seems like a company that made $42.91billion last year could do a better job, particularly when there are so many alternatives available, notably MusicIP Mixer, Songbird and MediaMonkey.

MediaMonkey in particular is good for MP3 player management, since it automatically tags songs from Amazon (with album art) effectively and carriesthat art and all the ID3 tag information to the player, even while playing something else.

Of course, MediaMonkey isn’t exactly a household name – even a self-confessed geek like me has only barely come across it – which highlights Apple’s greatest strength but also its greatest weakness. The company, in recent years in particular, has always focused on style over substance, products that look sleek and stylish but really do little to earn there hefty price tag compared to similar products from Creative or Sony.

One area where iTunes has had a real impact is music downloads, with the number of songs downloaded passing the 10 billion mark in February this year. Sadly the downloads themselves are in iTunes spacific .AAC file format, with a copyright protection system called FairPlay, meaning you can only play them on computers you’ve registered to your iTunes account or on your iPod.

If you wanted to be generous and give some music to a friend, you wouldn’t be able to do it digitally and would be forced to burn it to CD, losing some of the audio’s quality in the transfer – providing the music burns properly in the first place. While these measures were put in place to avoid unlawful sharing or transfer of songs, but with all the red tape and regulation you may want to dig out your old portable CD player and save yourself a whole lot of hassle.

James Michael Parry

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