I’ve spent the last few weeks with a demo Windows Phone running the new version 7.5, or “Mango”, operating system. It’s been a splendid time. Microsoft is really onto something.
My regular phone is an iPhone 4S, though, and I have to say: there are no two operating systems so different as Apple’s iOS, which runs on my iPhone, and Mango. They differ in every way, from philosophy, to user experience, to look and feel. And that’s a good thing.
One key element I’ve noticed about the two platforms is this: Apple’s iOS is geared towards an older crowd, while Microsoft’s approach is much more attuned to youth culture.
A good example of this is in the way the two platforms provide commercial access to music.
Microsoft’s Zune Marketplace subscription service is any kid’s dream. Pay $10 a month and get unlimited access to the entire Zune catalogue, which is every bit the equal of iTunes. You can either download or stream music. (I’ve used other subscription music services, like Rdio, but they’re nowhere as flexible as Zune, and they generally offer a very, very limited catalogue, especially in Canada.)
Of course, you don’t end up “owning” any music, you just “rent” it. But there are no limits. It’s like a musical Chinese smorgasbord. Just heard about a new band? Hop on Zune and download some tracks on the fly.
Apple’s approach is very, very different. Steve Jobs famously eschewed the rental model of the Zune marketplace and firmly believed that we all want to “own” our music. This is true, from my experience, only with older people, who grew up buying LPs, cassettes, and CDs. “Buying” an album for $10 makes them feel like the music belongs to them. (Nothing’s further from the truth, of course: you’re just buying the publisher’s permission to listen to it. You don’t end up owning squat.)
It’s a concept that doesn’t apply to younger people who don’t necessarily want to possess music, they just want to listen to it.
Apple recently extended their ownership model with the introduction of a service called iTunes Match. I signed up for it today. For $28 a year, I now have access, through Apple’s iCloud, to every song I’ve ever bought. It’s great, I guess: now I don’t have to worry about constantly syncing my iPhone to iTunes.
But iTunes Match clearly represents the spirit of Apple’s approach to music ownership. The service doesn’t give me access to anything new; it’s just expands my access. It’s an historical model: iTunes Match is all about the past, all about the music you’ve already bought and have already listened to. In a sense, it’s a reminiscent music model. Older people have generally settled on the “classics”, whatever that word means to them, and iTunes Match is a perfect fit for them. They just want better access to music that they already own.
Zune’s subscription model, on the other hand is all about what you’re going to listen to. It’s about spending a little bit of money because there’s a degree of uncertainty and exploration in your musical habits, or because you’re a voracious musical consumer. Zune is about your musical future, and that concept generally applies to younger people, who are moving forward in a period of musical discovery.
Ironically, Zune technically usurps iTunes Match. You don’t own the music in the Zune cloud, but you do gain access to everything you’ve ever bought — and more. To be honest, I feel gypped by iTunes Match after having used Zune for a month.
I think Apple – and for that matter Google and Amazon – really missed the boat by not adopting a musical subscription model alongside a purchasing model, as Microsoft has done with Zune. (There is an option to buy music in Zune.) I sure hope they remedy this oversight, and fast, because it’s an aspect of the platform that will draw a lot of people towards Windows Phone.
There are a lot of other details in the Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system that cater towards a younger crowd and that paints Apple’s platform as more targeted towards the elder folks among us. But nowhere is this difference more marked than in the two companies’ approach to how they sell music.