Is iTunes an Android Killer?

11 May

As I become more familiar with Ubuntu, I begin to fantasize about not being held hostage to proprietary technology from either Microsoft or Apple. Maybe “hostage” is too strong of a term. After all, I do enjoy a lot of what I do with both companies’ technology. So, you might say, I’m a user with a software Stockholm Syndrome.

To one degree or another, both companies have worked together just enough to make it possible for me to use both platforms with minimal pain. I have Microsoft Office for the Mac, which one of my publisher clients insists I use, even though I’ve never had trouble converting Pages or Numbers files to Word or Excel.

“Just in case,” he said.

I have iTunes on my Windows laptop because it’s nice to listen to music without wearing my iPhone’s earbuds once in a while when I’m traveling. And sometimes I want to share my music with others using portable speakers.

Neither Apple nor Microsoft wants to help Linux, though. I’m guessing we’ll never see an iTunes client for Linux. And we’ve all read plenty of quotes from Microsoft executives on their views of the open source operating system. (CEO Steve Ballmer once famously called Linux a “cancer.”) So, any further steps I take down the open source road will have to be without either company’s help.

This brings me to my iPhone. I’d really like to get an open source-based Android phone when my contract with AT&T expires. (Talk about a hostage syndrome.) But there’s one application that makes me hesitate: iTunes. None of the other apps I have on my iPhone are Android killers for me.

In fact, one of my favorite apps, Motion GPS, an excellent product, makes me hate my iPhone. That is, I’m an avid bicyclist. On occasion I will ride for as long as eight hours, and I often take three-plus hour pedals. The problem is that while running the iPhone’s GPS with everything else turned off the battery consistently craps out at 2 hours 45 minutes. So I can either use the GPS knowing that the phone itself will become useless or take shorter rides. Neither option is appealing. Maybe…maybe the next iPhone will manage battery power better. But I’m betting that with multiple vendors delivering various Droid phones, I’ll find one that can handle my GPS needs while allowing me to have a usable phone after three hours.

So, I’d happily dump my iPhone for a better smartphone, except for iTunes’ shackles. Like many people, I have a substantial investment in the music I’ve purchased through the iTunes Store. I am loathe to leave that behind. There do appear to be workarounds that would permit me to export my iTunes collection to an Android device as well as to a choice of open source music players on Ubuntu. But there also happens to be a lot of chatter about the difficulties people have in synchronizing their music with Droid phones. Apple has spoiled me and everyone else with its technology. So, I’m not ready to jump onto the Android bandwagon just yet.

But here’s the thing that Apple needs to understand: those difficulties appear to be diminishing. More and more open source developers appear to be working on the problem. It had to be much more difficult to make it easy to switch from Windows or Mac to Ubuntu Linux, which it really seems to be, than it will be to switch mobile phones. So, maybe by the time I am released from my AT&T servitude, I’ll be able to make a real choice for both my smartphone and my music. And I’ll have one less reason to feel like I’m in captivity, no matter how pleasant they make me feel.

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