The Real World

RealNetworksIt’s kind of a strange feeling to actually find myself rooting for RealNetworks. For years, they have distinguished themselves with software installation practices that have struck me as… well, as exceedingly impolite, to use civil language. I’ve harbored enough ill will towards them that, when given a choice between using their Real Player software and Microsoft’s not much better Windows Media Player, I’ll always opt for the Redmond solution.

But this morning, I find myself actually applauding some of their shameless opportunism. Real has announced that they’ve effectively cracked the iPod. That is, they have, through reverse engineering, developed a means to sell downloadable music that can be played on Apple’s proprietary and wildly popular MP3 player.

This strikes me as good news, though not because I’m hoping that Apple’s monopoly position in the MP3 player market will be eroded. Rather, I see this as ensuring Apple’s continued success in this field. It irks me a little that the company has continued to pursue a digital music strategy that’s so rooted in proprietary hardware, especially given the way that Apple has, in the past, blown earlier leads based on that same logic. Real’s ‘barbarian at the gates’ move gives iPod consumers more choice among possible music sources to fuel their players, and therefore more reason to buy iPods, after all.



  1. How can you even say “proprietary” and “MP3 player” in the same sentence?

    What about the iPod is proprietary? It plays MP3s. That’s about as unproprietary as you can get when it comes to mainstream music formats. Real format is proprietary, WMA is proprietary. The AAC format available on iTMS isn’t even a proprietary format.

    Real Networks didn’t “break Apple’s hold on the iPod,” they’ve eliminated any the need for Apple to license the use of their proprietary format. Good for them!

  2. I think we essentially agree that this is a good thing, but you’re right that I misused my terms. What I mean is that the iTunes Music Store is a proprietary strategy — that you can only play your iTMS purchases on an iPod, and your iPod can only play song downloads from the iTMS. Not all of the parts of this strategy are proprietary, of course, but the business intentions definitely are.

  3. Okay, it’s not a true monopoly, you’re right. (Jeez, I sure did play fast and loose with the words in this post!) But it’s a market that Apple clearly dominates, as some analysts have very recently postulated.

  4. The Real deal looks good on the surface, but think about it. Real is offering to set iPod users free from Apple’s grip as long as they abandon iTunes and use RealPlayer.

    I would be less cynical about Real’s intentions if Harmony was just a plug-in for iTunes, or if the RealPlayer software provided easy access to many different music stores, including the iTunes store.

    As things stand, Real appears to be offering iPod users freedom from iTunes and the Apple store in exchange for loyalty to RealPlayer and its music store. No thanks.

  5. I’ve though about this since first posting this, and I’ve reconsidered my position. There’s no tangible, strategic advantage for Apple to get in bed with Real; the latter party’s share of the music download market will probably just dwindle away soon. So anyway, yeah, I stand corrected.

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.