Jason Calacanis is Wrong: Part 1 of 5

by Hadley Stern Aug 10, 2009

For those of you who haven't heard of him, Jason Calacanis is the serial entrepreneur responsible for Weblogs Inc. (and therefore TUAW, a wonderful apple blog, albeit corporatized by AOL) and Mahalo. Jason is a fantastic blogger who, of late, got sick of all the comments he was getting on his blog and switched to an email list instead. The email list is great too, and I suggest you subscribe. He covers a great variety of topics, and his recent writing on the Yahoo-Microsoft deal was the best out there, bar none.

However, last week Jason posted an email he had sent out on his email list to his blog entitled, The Case Against Apple-in Five Parts. That piece now has 71 comments on his blog, and is growing. If he was sick of all the comments he got before, he will surely be sicker by the time people have moved onto the next thing. Possibly influenced by a friend of Apple Matters: C.K. Sample III, Jason switched over to Apple a few years ago, and is now having second thoughts, to say the least. He makes his case in 5 parts, and as founder of Apple Matters I feel it is my duty to respond to his attacks in turn. After all, you can't be right all the time, and in his case against Apple, Jason missed the mark.

Jason's reason #1. Apple has Destroyed MP3 player innovation through anti-competitive practices.

Jason has a few key points here:
- There is no technical reason why iTunes can't be open.
- There is a dearth of MP3 player options in the US (as apposed to Asia), which he infers is Apple's fault.
- Apple should open an API to iTunes to allow 3rd party players to work.

Of course there is no technical reason why iTunes couldn't be open. Same way there is no technical reason why TUAW couldn't post a link everyday to a story on Apple Matters, or why I don't have access to your bank account. TUAW doesn't do this because it is against their best interests as a business to link every Apple Matters story (although I may beg to differ!). And you don't allow me access to your bank account because it is your money.

The bigger question here is why on Earth should Apple make iTunes available to any hardware manufacture? There are a plethora of alternatives other hardware companies could use to manage music for their device on both the Windows and Macintosh side including writing their own damn software. It is not up to Apple to open up iTunes, it is up to the competition to come along with something better. Even so, crappy third party devices, like the Sony Walkman do have some iTunes integration. On Windows Vista a Sony gadget loads and you can simply drag and drop any song (or songs) from iTunes onto the Gadget and they copy over.

His point that, "Think for a moment about what your reaction would be if Microsoft made the Zune the only MP3 player compatible with Windows." is complete FUD. Or, to put it another way, it is a fallacious comparison. You can use any number of mp3 players on the Mac including an Archos 5, Sony WalkMan, SanDisk and others. They all suck compared to the iPod, and yes, you cannot use them with iTunes (without a bit of hackery) but you can use them on a Mac. On the other hand, you can't use a Zune on a Mac.

As for his second point that Apple is somehow to blame for the lack of other MP3 players, that is pure and simple nonsense. Just because these devices don't work for iTunes doesn't mean they couldn't garner market interest. The reason you see 100's of different mp3 players when you go to Asia is because that market is entirely different. The iPhone doesn't do well in Japan precisely because of its lack of "features" and its focussed product and interface design. Its not to say it is better or worse that the West generally appreciated nuanced and focussed design more than just jamming a bunch of features into a product but there you have it. This isn't the fault of a missing iTunes API, this is just a cultural difference. The market is wide wide open for anyone to come along and out-innovate Apple in the portable player space, it just hasn't happened yet.

Jason has 4 other points in his case against Apple, I'll debunk the next 4 as the days go by. In the meantime, what do you think? Does Jason have a point about iTunes and Apple's power over the MP3 market?


  • Apple has not power over any market.  It makes excellent products with feature people want to use.  Jason’s complaint appears to be:

    “Apple built this thing in a market with dominant established players and now that their hard work has paid off they should be forced to share their success”.

    Apple doesn’t day you can not use your iPod with other software or operatings system.  Only that they will not provide technical assistance with that.

    Apple does not say you can not use your non-Apple MP3 player with iTunes.  Only that they have will not provide support technical assistance with that.

    Honda won’t provide assistance if I connect third party parts non-Honda parts to my Accord.  If I change out the factory radio Honda won’t help or warranty the work.

    Khürt Williams had this to say on Aug 10, 2009 Posts: 45
  • I read all five and don’t see a single point that’s defensible. (I also don’t see a reason to waste my time educating him.)

    Basicly, his point is: “Apple is bad because its proprietary iPhone is designed to work with Apple’s proprietary interface (iTunes). What makes that bad? well, for one thing Apple doesn’t publish its info that would allow competitors to use the iPhone and iTunes with their stuff.”

    In other words, the barbarians are at the gate and they are complaining because it’s locked.

    DanRobinson had this to say on Aug 10, 2009 Posts: 9
  • It’s the old story, and we’re all guilty of it at one time or another. We just want things *our* way. We like to think that everyone feels the same. but often they don’t. The other problem is, when you switch, after a while you lose touch with how bad it is on the other side.

    I think in reality, it’s just as bad on each side. For different reasons, of course, but whether it’s Apple, MS, Sony, etc, they are all about making money, not about me and you happy as pigs in mud.

    So Calacanis can rant all he likes, but it is no better on the other side, the grass isn’t greener. There’s pros on both sides, and there’s definitely cons on both sides. At some point we decide which we prefer. I’m still happy to take the Apple cons over those of its competitors.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 10, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • on his first point, it’s even worse. Calacanis is simply, literally wrong as a matter of pure fact. one can easily access and copy/transfer your full no-DRM iTunes music library on a wide range of third party devices, including TiVo, the PS3, and many PMP’s plugged in or via a LAN simply by installing a DLNA utility like NullRiver’s MediaLink. DLNA is an open standard that Apple supports in iTunes. you can “see” the essential iTunes metadata as well - playlists, albums, etc. if the media presentation UI software on the other equipment is not as slick as iTunes, that is hardly Apple’s fault. Calacanis apparently does not know what he is talking about here.

    the story is different with TV/movies since the content owners still insist on DRM in iTunes for them. but that is undeniably an industry-wide DRM issue that Apple did not create and does not control overall. otherwise DLNA can also share your no-DRM iTunes video files too.

    There is no industry-wide DRM file format standard (yet), just several proprietary systems, including Apple’s FairPlay. Many have suggested it would benefit consumers if Apple licensed FairPlay to work with other companies’ hardware/software too. That is a fair criticism of Apple’s “walled garden” business model, but it is not the issue that Calacanis went after.

    Alfiejr had this to say on Aug 11, 2009 Posts: 18
  • If apple open iTunes and very mp3 player out there would use it than iTunes would be a monopoly… or so it would be called.
    Here in Japan music is not listened as in western countries, guys prefer to spend ¥20,000 in a snack bar in a night than going to a ¥3,000 concert. Also, every phone here in Japan has a music player, TV, Radio, Video, Games, News, Weather report, etc. so there is no much of a need for another multifunction device. My phone has more capabilities than an iPhone (except for the apps and iTunes compatibility) and it is also water resistant. Still, it is very hard to use comparing it to the iPhone.

    tropicoco had this to say on Aug 11, 2009 Posts: 8
  • Apple relied on high profit margins and never developed a clear response. Instead they sued Microsoft for using a graphical user interface similar to the Apple Lisa in Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation.-Any Lab Test Now

    Ana had this to say on Sep 19, 2011 Posts: 76
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