I read one too many “Napster challenges iPod” headlines this morning. Here’s a summary of why Napster isn’t even in the same league as the iPod, never mind a “challenger”. This is not an underdog-meets-giant sort of “he coulda been a contender” thing, either. They’re just not even close to being the same thing.
1) Napster is a digital music delivery service. iPods are hardware. Please, for crap’s sake, at least compare it to the iTunes Music Store. In order to “challenge” the iPod, Napster would have to include the player, the player-machine synch software, and the store all in one (beautifully designed) package of “it just works” interoperability. Oh yeah, it would have to include a fast and high-quality ripping system, and some brilliant cataloguing/playlist-creating/rating software.
2) iTunes lets you purchase and download music in a single transaction with no followup or communication between you and the store regarding that purchase ever again. When you purchase a song through the iTunes Music Store, here’s what you get, from the Apple website: “You can burn individual songs onto an unlimited number of CDs for your personal use, listen to songs on an unlimited number of iPods and play songs on up to five Macintosh computers or Windows PCs.”
Now, the only sticky bit there for me is the “up to five” thing at the end. That’s a limitation I don’t understand, but it also doesn’t really matter. The “unlimited” cds and iPods is what counts for me.
Napster works very, very differently. When you subscribe to Napster (for $15 USD/mo or whatever) you gain access to an unlimited quantity of music from their library. Until you stop subscribing. When you stop subscribing, the Microsoft-designed DRM system that’s tagged your music kicks in and those music files “expire”. They stop working. So, for $15/mo you rent music, and if you stop giving them money, your music gets repo’d and you’re SOL. You paid for a service, period. There is no “product” involved in this exchange.
Yes, iTunes does only work with iPods. People get pissed off about this, but I look at it the same way as I look at my Mac: OSX only runs on the Mac, and the Mac only runs OSX (well, technically I could put Linux on there I think, but that’d be silly). When I bought my Mac, I bought the whole package — hardware, operating system, software, AppleCare warranty, the whole shebang. When I bought my iPod it never once crossed my mind that I couldn’t use other software to load it up. I don’t care. I guess other people do. I suppose that’s where Napster comes in, sort of, kinda. Or something.
3) iTunes is much more than just a store. I use iTunes to rip my own CDs. This process works as follows: I put the CD in the drive. I click the “Import” button. The End. iTunes takes care of ripping, cataloguing, and synching that music to my iPod. It is, literally, a one-click process. And I love it. In fact, that one-click process is what inspired me to buy an iPod, which in turn inspired me to buy a Mac. I am an unparalleled example of the Halo Effect in action.
Napster is a music rental service, period. I don’t know how it stands up, design-wise, and I honestly don’t care. I’m not going to rent my music. It doesn’t help me with my existing music collection. It …bah, it’s just a half-assed service that promotes quantity over quality and leaves you with nothing in the end.
There are a lot of articles that cover this whole Napster thing, and many of them seem to be as disdainful of the whole thing as I am. The Register covers why Napster sucks, without comparing it to the iPod/iTunes combo at all.
Silly people. This isn’t a challenge, this is just sad.