3 Reasons Why the iTunes Ecosystem Works

I was out getting ice cream the other day with my family, and the topic of sharing books came up. My mother loves her iPad, and goes through books purchased on the iBook store voraciously. My father on the other hand, reads occasionally, but sometimes would rather just borrow a book from my mom to check it out, just like he would have years ago with the physical version. Thing is, now he can’t do that.

“The Kindle will let you lend out books, and so will other ereaders and tablets. What makes iTunes and Apple this ‘great’ ecosystem that no one can beat?”

I played with my spoon in my ice cream for a minute, and after some thought I said, “Well Dad, let me give you three reasons.”

No. 1: Availability

“You know,” I start to tell my father, “anytime you want to buy a song, movie, TV show or book, chances are pretty good you can access it from the iPhone in your pocket.” One of the bigĀ advantagesĀ that iTunes and the iTunes ecosystem has over the competition is the sheer number and availability of products under its brand. Because of Apple’s power in the market, iTunes has become a standard that companies want to reach. I’ve seen people promote their iTunes sales alone on Twitter, and nowadays, it really is the gold standard for music what with half the music stores in the country disappearing overnight.

All these options and more available anytime, anywhere.

All these options and more available anytime, anywhere.

And all this stuff is available today, now, at any time. Sure, the iTunes store goes down every now and then, but for the most part, it’s up and running every day, churning out downloads like a champ. Not everyone is on the iTunes bandwagon, and yes, there are companies that essentially boycott Apple and decide to go the physical media route instead. Guess which companies I usually don’t buy from?

No. 2: Accessibility

“So how about this one then, Dad,” I ask as I take another bite of the chocolate with brownie ice cream I had in front of me. “How many Apple devices do you own right now?” For my father, the count was two: his iPad 2 and iPhone 4. My mother could add her 27-inch iMac to the list, and (if they’d ever get a TV that they could connect it to) they also own an AppleTV 2. “Do you realize that you can get any of these great iTunes items right now on any of those devices? And that it would still be accessible across all of them once it was in your iTunes library?”

Fact is, it didn’t used to be this way. If you bought something on your Zune, you couldn’t play it on your iPod and vice versa. Although this is still the case today, it’s less of an issue because of the wide variety of products supported under the iTunes masthead, which give you options from watching on your TV to listening on your iPod and everything in between. With other ecosystems (and I don’t mean to pick on Zune here, but c’mon), you didn’t have that choice. And if you did have a variety of different options, none of it was easy to work with. All this syncing and back and forth just became confusing and a pain in the butt to work with. Who wants that?

Ultimately with iTunes you make one purchase, and it’s on all of your devices. Period.

No. 3: Stubborness

“Dad, remember when I met Kirsten?” That’s my wife of almost three years, and of course, he nodded his head. “Back when we met she had all of her music on her Windows PC and it was all formatted under the ‘Plays for Sure’ banner. Remember that?”

Of course he did, my father is a Microsoft programmer, he knows the system. He also nodded his head slowly as he remembered what happened with that whole debacle.

Just some of the options for viewing or listening to your iTunes purchases.

Just some of the options for viewing or listening to your iTunes purchases.

Love him or hate him, Jobs is a stickler for what he wants, and being stubborn is one of them. He knew that if people were going to invest money in collecting music, movies or whatever, then they want to make sure that standard is around for a while. No one wants to have the rug pulled out from under them after amassing thousands of dollars in product, and he got that. As a result, I can listen to the same music on my iPhone today that I downloaded six years ago onto my iPod Photo.

That is absolutely critical to the ecosystem, and it’s part of the reason why the deck of cards has held up for so long. Eventually, some format will replace iTunes standards, and something newer and better will come along with the latest technologies. But I have confidence that Apple will take care of its customers if need be and provide a way to upgrade or change formats along the way. Even if they don’t, I can chalk up some purchases to changes in the times, it’s just when companies make a decision to change something to make their customers spend more that it really irks me.

But It’s Not Without Its Faults

“Admittedly Dad, iTunes is not perfect though, and you brought up one of the reasons why.” Truth be told, DRM does suck, and unless you’re a music company executive, I don’t know anyone who likes it. We can’t burn our own DVDs into iTunes legally, so if we want something it better be on the iTunes store or we can’t watch it. And, we can’t lend out our books.

Another thing that does bother me is the sheer randomness that some movies and TV shows pop in and out of the iTunes store. For example, last year when The Hangover came out on iTunes I wanted to buy it, and it was available on the same release date as the DVD. Somehow it slipped my mind and a month or so later when I remembered, suddenly the movie was gone. Then it popped back up again a few months later, no explanation at all as to where it had been. It was like the movie, The Hangover, literally did what the movie discussed, and went on a bender just to pop up when it was least expected.

One More Thing

“There is one more thing though Dad,” I said across the table as my 18-month-old son tried to shovel ice cream in his mouth. “What’s the alternative?”

Admittedly, I’m an Apple guy. But more importantly, I’m a guy who likes getting things accomplished smoothly and easily, and if that means Windows 8 is going to be a better alternative to me than what Apple is offering, then I’d definitely consider switching over. For now though, even if I wanted another option, there really isn’t one.

Yes, there’s the Sony Store, but after the debacle with the Playstation Store and all of my personal info getting drudged through the Internet, I really don’t want to deal with that again. I guess I could go with Microsoft, but again, do you trust someone who’s willing to dump your format after a few years of playing around with it?

Before everyone else chips in, yes, there are tons of individual properties I could go to and get my fix of music, TV or whatever. Sirius, Spotify, Last.fm, Hulu, YouTube, etc, they all work well in one way or another to get what I’m looking for, but there isn’t really an all-in-one alternative that springs to mind. ITunes has everything I want and more all in one convenient location, accessible anytime, anywhere on anyone of a few different devices. It doesn’t get much better than that.

“Alright Kevin, you got me,” Dad said, nodding his head. “But next time, you’re buying the ice cream.”