Sunday, June 25, 2006

Apple Missing A Byte?

iTunes. Who doesn’t love it?

I’ve long wondered if Apple is missing out or if they just don’t want the hassle (see this study by the Berkman Center at Harvard) when it comes to having a bigger share of the global market. After many trips to the Middle East, one in which I was told to open my Mac laptop with AK’s pointed at me at a checkpoint in Iraq, (that aluminum finish made them extra wary, they asked repeatedly at first “what is that?”), I got used to the fact that Macs are very seldom seen there. There’s simply no parts to easily fix them, and nobody that knows them well enough to service them.

But, when it comes to iTunes I was truly shocked. If you’ve tried iTunes, chances are, you like it. I use it so much that in my travels I’ve ended up introducing it to a lot of people, and for many it has become their default music player. In the Middle East, the market for computers is growing at a great pace. The market for music and music videos, however, is astounding.

I recently sent a close friend of mine in Iraq what should’ve been a pick-me-up for the day. I bought an iTunes gift card for him. Alas, it’s not as simple as redeeming it in the music store. You have to have an account. And to set up an account, you have to have a credit card. (OK, so far I’m with Apple on this, it all makes sense in fraud prevention and other legalities.)

You can have an address. You can have a credit card. You can desire to give Apple money. But if you live anywhere besides the 21 countries they have selected to serve, you are out of luck. So, though my friend uses iTunes to play his music on his computer, he can’t redeem my gift. Nor can he create an account (yes, Iraq just got credit/debit cards, so that is no longer an issue). And what about all of the other countries? Jordan, UAE, Turkey, Lebanon, just to name a few. No other Asian or African countries are on the list either. Just to be certain that I had this information correct, I called Apple’s help line and spoke with a young man named My. He confirmed that the 21 countries listed were the only ones that could be used to create and iTunes account. (Availability: To buy files through iTunes, a user must have a pre-paid deal or a credit card whose billing address is in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and United States.) Other people can download podcasts and previews only.

If Apple doesn’t move, MP3 players other than iPod’s will dominate the area, just as PC’s do. To me, that’s a shame, because it’s a great product, and if there is one easy way to gain credibility and a foot in the larger global market it would be through iTunes/iPod sales. So while I can purchase Kazem Al-Saher’s songs (an Iraqi singer now living in Egypt) on iTunes, Mr. Kazem can’t purchase his own songs from iTunes in Iraq or in Egypt. And more importantly to me, my friend can’t use the card I bought him, unless I give him my account here, or create another one for him using my address. Is that what Apple really wants?

I was taught a few things about business. One of them was this: People want to give their money to you, your job is to make it easy for them to do that.

Of course, another is: Do one thing and do it the best. While debate rages between Mac and PC users, the iPod/iTunes matchup is by far the clear winner with consumers in its realm.

I hope that Apple considers putting more of their products and resources in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa before it’s too late. Because they put so much into education here, I spent a bit of time researching ways that the iPod might be useful in that arena last year in developing nations, and there are many. Meanwhile, the global battle to provide online compatible educational tools goes on. And the money goes into other companies that are willing to compete globally.


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Anonymous About Medicine Blog said...

There’s simply no parts to easily fix them, and
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