I know a lot of people don’t like iTunes and the restrictions on iPods and iPhones that require you to use iTunes to utilise all of their functionality, or even just to synchronise your music. That’s a fair call (and yes I know you can set it up to bypass iTunes for music but I’m not going to go into that today), I’ll admit that it was one of the things that turned me off getting an iPod for a long time. I still don’t have an iPod as my phone doubles as my MP3 player, but I think there are some good reasons why iTunes gives the iPod, and Apple in particular some big advantages over competitors.
iTunes gives Apple complete control over the user experience, right from purchasing music, through to letting them listen to it on their computer and finally to listening to it on their MP3 player, their iPod. This has given them the ability to expand their market and improve the service simply by upgrading the software for free. If there is a problem with the device itself that can be fixed by a firmware upgrade, again it can be controlled through iTunes in a (usually) quick and simple process, thus fixing the problem without users having to go through a potentially complicated firmware upgrade as can be the case on some other devices.
Every device either dies off or has a new model replacing it sooner or later, quite often it’s only a year from the original release that a new version is out. Through a managed software interface like iTunes, you can increase the longevity of your device to some degree as new features are added that your device may be able to use. This has become particularly relevant since the release of the newer iPods and the iPhones that support applications and video as well as functionality can be added through applications.
Ease of use
I’m sure most people have had issues with iTunes at one point or another, but the simple fact is that it’s intended to make the process of keeping the content on your iPod up to date easy, and for the most part, it is easy. Stick a CD in and it will import it for you and then you can just synchronise it straight to your iPod the next time it’s plugged in, or download music from iTunes and synchronise it. Movies and applications are the same. Just jump on the computer, buy them, download them, set them to be synchronised and iTunes will take care of the rest next time the iPod or iPhone is connected.
A few other reasons Apple wants you to use iTunes
It gives them an extra revenue stream if you purchase through iTunes, and since they’re providing the service for you and you’ve already got everything in place both software and MP3 player, they are perfectly positioned to advertise it to you. After all, wouldn’t it be so much easier to not have to go anywhere to get your music or movies and just with the click of a few buttons have them sent straight to your iPod or iPhone?
I don’t know how much information Apple gather about your activities using iTunes, but I would be certain that they garner some level of usage statistics from what you download from iTunes and what you synch to your iPod. It would be quite useful from a marketing perspective to have access to that sort of data.
Misc Thoughts and Summary
In my opinion, iTunes is a stroke of genius both for end users and for Apple, it has so many advantages, along with the disadvantages of not being in direct control of your data from any computer. Whether you want to use it or not is up to you, there is an option to allow you to use your iPod like a regular hard drive. I’m not sure if this is still available with iPod Touches or iPhones, from memory when I was setting up an iPhone 3GS for a friend, there was an option to set it to behave like a hard drive, but I really don’t remember if the option was greyed out or not. If you have one, could you let me know in the comments if they can be set that way? Thanks, that would be great!
Anyway, as I was saying, whether you like iTunes and the control Apple have over the user experience is up to you, but in my opinion it is a great way to do it, compare it to other systems that existed when Apple began, and even systems that are around now. There really isn’t any other option that is as simple and smooth (for the most part).
What do you think about it, if you’ve got something to add, I’d love to hear it!