Opinion: Why isn't Apple letting us share music too?

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stu-col.jpgStuart Dredge writes…

I’m genuinely excited about Microsoft’s plans for the Zune Social community, allowing Zune owners to subscribe to each other’s dynamic playlists, and embed their latest listening in their blog or social networking profile.

It’s certainly more interesting than the Zune-to-Zune Wi-Fi track sharing that debuted in the first Zune, anyway. Zune Social would actually make me buy a Zune, if Microsoft was selling it officially over here in the UK. Note to Bill: sort this out soon, please.

With the caveat that I’m not a Jobs-hating Microsoft fanboy (or, indeed, a Gates-stomping Apple nut), Zune Social has made me wonder why Apple hasn’t done more in the area of music sharing – or at least communities around the music stored in our iPods and iTunes applications.

It can’t be technical barriers. It would surely be easy to introduce features in iTunes allowing us to define who our friends were, and share playlists (by which I mean the data in playlists, not the actual songs necessarily). Imagine getting a message when you opened iTunes saying ‘Bob just bought album A and tunes X, Y and Z, and thought you might like them too…’

It’d be marvellous. But nothing so far. Meanwhile, iPod is a resolutely standalone device, although the introduction of the Wi-Fi equipped iPod Touch is the first move towards breaking down that walled isolation. Why not Touch to Touch sharing in future, with a Zune-esque ability to share tracks which can be played three times before they have to be bought?

The iPhone is another device crying out for sharing features, given that you store your contacts in it, and also store your music. The MusicStation mobile music service being launched by Vodafone lets you share playlists with friends, so it wouldn’t be a stretch for iPhone to get a similar feature.

When you connect to the iTunes Store through an iPhone or iPod Touch, why shouldn’t you be able to see your registered friends’ most recent purchases?

Music sharing is a scary idea for many people in the music industry, so maybe Apple simply didn’t want the hassle of having to convince labels to let it happen. But what Microsoft is doing with Zune right now is achieving the near-impossible feat of making iPods look a little… backward.

C;mon Steve, surely it’s time to bring a little Web 2.0 flair to your business? Selling iPods and iPhones is all very well, but if you could lauch some genuinely compelling community features around them and music, it’d be a huge extra string to your bow. You’re not going to let Big Bad Bill out-innovate you, are you?

Stuart Dredge is editor-in-chief of Tech Digest. He meant that bit about not being a fanboy of either Apple or Microsoft, before you get all flamey in your comment.

Stuart Dredge