With Music, Apple Pleases Older People, Microsoft Focuses on Youth

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.

3 thoughts on “With Music, Apple Pleases Older People, Microsoft Focuses on Youth

  1. I recently switched (as of November) from my iPhone 3GS over to a Windows Phone system and really haven’t looked back. (for the most part)

    Admittedly, I’m one of the 18 people who owned a Zune and have always thought the the Zune Software was leaps and bounds ahead of iTunes, which drove me batty for probably no specific reason other than my own personal taste. I am one of the own my own music folks though with a substantial collection and have not ventured into the realm of Zune Pass since it was made available in Canada. I don’t think I will just for the fact that I have my own library and also love the Sat Rad CND app to stream music from my Sirius satellite radio account.

    The iOS is of course more mature than the Windows Phone 7.x system but the Metro UI is definitelly a very usable interface and the Live Tiles make things very easy to scan in an instant. With the adoption of this interface onto the X-Box, Zune Software itself and the upcoming Windows 8 OS, I can see it improving and gaining a larger acceptance.

    The Windows Phone Marketplace isn’t nearly as large as the iTunes store of course however it is growing and most apps that I ‘need’ are available in a WP7 version. Probably one of my favorite new feature to hit the WP7 is the integration of Microsoft’s SkyDrive where I have access to the ‘cloud versions’ of files I need but also does things like automatically uploads copies of photos I take to SkyDrive so I have a backup of them automatically (at a reduced resolution of course to save data use)

    What do I miss about my iPhone, really one thing – the ability to ‘tether’ so I can share the connection with my laptop while on the road. This is not a short-coming of WP7 of course as there is the fuctionality is there in terms of WiFi internet sharing but is not supported by BELL MOBILITY. (That’s my next cranky-old-man letter to write)

    It is also a bit discouraging that BELL MOBILITY also seems to have abandoned the WP7 phones at least for the time being. You can probably still get them at retail locations (or Lattitude Wireless) but online there is no mention of phone availability (previously they were offering HTC HD7 and LG Optimus). We’ll see what the future brings with the next gen of WP7 devices coming out in 2012.

    (and then there’s the suggestions floating around that RIM should give up on the OS side of things and become the NOKIA of North America be using another party’s OS and potentially WP7 in order to try and revitatlize the BlackBerry product line)

    I didn’t mean for this to become a WP7 review, but just wanted to say I agree with you that MS is actually getting some things right these days in the mobile OS market and it will be interesting how things change with all companies when adapting to changing consumer tastes. I’m sure Apple and iOS will remain strong but its good to know there are some appealing alternatives out there.

    I guess I’m just an ‘elder’ guy with ‘young crowd’ tastes.

    • Thanks for the great comment, George. You make a lot of excellent points, some of which I was working up for my next column in the News. 🙂

      My own research also turned up the unfortunate fact that Bell, somewhat surprisingly, does not carry a single Windows phone. However, Latitude does still list the HD7 on their web site as being available. What’s more, all Windows phone currently available in Canada on any providers have been on the market for at least a year. No proper “Mango” phones are available in our country yet. I’m trying to get an idea from Microsoft when we might see some of these newer devices, especially since that very nice looking Nokia Lumia 800 looks like it’ll be going State-side in January.

  2. Feel free to borrow anything I said. 🙂

    I tend to follow WP Central (@wpcentral http://www.wpcentral.com/) for much of info on WP7 developments.

    FYI, I run an HD7 which a purchased privately through a charity auction (my own mental justification to buy a new phone). The Mango OS update was a relatively painless experience with just your standard series of upgrades done automatically through the Zune Software. Manufactureres have rolled out firmware changes to take advantage of new features on a manufacturer/provider basis.

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