Apple dominates the digital media market in the same way that Microsoft dominates personal computing and Google dominates online search. The word dominance conjures various definitions, but in this case, feel free to apply the most far-reaching definition you can muster: Apple's digital media solutions don't just outsell the competition, always by a wide margin. They are also demonstrably superior to the competition. And aside from some temporary forays from Microsoft's copycat Zune solutions, they always have been. Sorry, Microsoft fans. It's a fact.
I'd cover Apple's digital media products to some degree no matter how successful they were. But the reason I've covered this hardware and software so faithfully over the past decade is because of the incredible overlap between Windows users and iPod/iTunes users. Most of Apple's customers are still Windows users too, and that's something that hasn't changed a bit, despite a decade of better-than-ever Mac sales. In the words of Steve Jobs, we need to get over the notion that for us to win, they have to lose. That is, we're all the same people. Windows users, by and large, have iPods and use iTunes. iPod and iTunes users are, by and large, Windows users.
Looking back at these articles, a clear trend emerges: While I've really liked Apple's hardware over the years aside from some early pricing issues, my relationship with Apple's iTunes software quickly entered a downward spiral and just got worse and worse with each subsequent release. As any iTunes user will tell you, they put up with it because they have to. I'm curious to see how much better future iPhones, iPods, and other Apple devices will be simply because this requirement is starting to fade.
As important, perhaps, I still use these solutions, iTunes because I have to and the iPod touch and Apple TV because they're still the best products in those respective markets.
Here, you can chart Apple's rise to prominence via my articles about the iPod, iTunes, and Apple TV, dating all the way back to the release of the original iPod in late 2001, when Apple's entry into this new market was as confusing as it was exciting. As with past retrospectives, newer articles can be found at the top.
Apple TV (Late 2010) - September 30, 2010
Apple's newly redesigned and somewhat neutered Apple TV represents a major retreat on the part of the normally infallible Cupertino super power. Whereas the original version was a slightly detuned Mac, the new only is barely more than a dumb terminal, with just a handful of networking and display connections.
Apple iPod shuffle and iPod nano (Late 2010) - September 13, 2010
The new iPod shuffle and iPod nano are a mixed bag. Each is highly portable, and perhaps even smaller than is necessary. And each is unequivocally beautiful and minimalist in the way that all Apple hardware products are beautiful and minimalist. But neither is best of breed.
Apple iPod touch 4G (Late 2010) - September 12, 2010
As long as you don't expect the iPod touch to deliver decent quality photos or videos--you know, memories you'd actually want to save--then this is still the portable digital media player to beat. I'd say the ball's in Microsoft's court, but who am I kidding? Unless you just want music playback, where the Zune HD still has the upper hand, Apple has this game all to themselves. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the new king. Same as the old king.
Just Say No: Is It Time to Say Goodbye to Apple? - September 6, 2010
Apple's iTunes software has been so bad for so long that it's getting hard to justify using this unwieldy software. But what are the alternatives to Apple's superior iPhone, iPod, and iPad products? And does leaving the company's i-ecosystem even make any sense?
Apple iTunes 10 - September 3, 2010
I hope that Apple eventually fixes iTunes, providing its biggest customer base--Windows users--with the software they've long deserved. But iTunes 10 isn't it, not by a long shot.
Apple TV 3.0 - October 30, 2009
Apple this week released a long-overdue software update to its Apple TV product, adding a new home screen and support for recent iTunes technologies like iTunes LP and iTunes Extras. Any change to Apple TV is welcome. After all, the last update, Apple TV Take 2, occurred almost two years ago. But for something that is billed as a major update, the new Apple TV software is a surprisingly lackluster and minor change, and it does nothing to incorporate increasingly popular non-Apple sources of video like Netflix and Hulu.
Zune HD vs. iPod touch: The Definitive Comparison - September 15, 2009
In preparing my review of the Zune HD, I've found that comparisons with Apple's best-selling iPod touch are inevitable. In fact, they're frequent. Again and again, I've found myself accessing Apple's tech specs for the iPod touch and Microsoft's tech specs for the Zune HD. Why not, I thought, combine them? You know, like two great tastes that go together?
Apple IPods (Late 2009): IPod Shuffle, IPod Nano, IPod Classic, IPod Touch - September 14, 2009
Apple has a mature and capable product that is a wonder of our time, especially for those companies foolish enough to try and compete with them. While the Zune platform in some ways exceeds what Apple has accomplished with its iPod/iTunes/iPhone ecosystem, no one can touch the Cupertino company from a broad perspective. Sure, it's all about lock-in. But what a wonderful way to go.
Apple iTunes 9 - September 13, 2009
Like its predecessors, iTunes 9 features a multitude of new functionality, all layered thick on its already teetering foundation. I've said this about iTunes before, and I'll note it again here: Given the sheer amount of content you can manage with this application, it's time for Apple to completely rethink iTunes. It's just a molasses-slow, bloated mess.
Apple iPod shuffle 3G Review - April 6, 2009
I can't recommend the new iPod shuffle. This is a rare misstep for Apple, and, I hope, the end of the miniaturization silliness that currently grips the company. Smaller isn't always better. Nowhere is that more true than with the iPod shuffle 3G.
Apple iPod shuffle 3G Photos - March 16, 2009
Apple's ludicrously small new iPod shuffle arrives and makes my other portable media devices look like Humvees by comparison.
Apple iTunes 8 Review - September 14, 2008
Apple iTunes is a mature and suddenly complex product, overburdened by the multitude of features Apple has added over time. But that maturity has its advantages as well, of course, and iTunes, combined with the iTunes Store, offers access to a far wider range of content than does any other digital media player.
2008 iPod Reviews: iPod nano 4G and iPod touch 2G - September 13, 2008
Apple offers mature and capable iPods at every possible price point, each of which is backed by the enormous libraries of music, TV shows, movies, applications, games, podcasts, audiobooks, ringtones, and other content that's available on iTunes, and the market-leading ecosystem of iPod hardware accessories. Apple's iPod lineup is, once again, the one to beat.
The SuperSite Switcher Guide: iTunes Migration - September 7, 2008
There are a number of ways to migrate over your music, videos, and other iTunes-based content. The simplest and most cost effective, of course, is to simply continue using iTunes and the iPod (and other related products, like Apple TV) with Windows. This is probably the approach most people will want, I'd imagine.
Apple TV Take 2 Review - February 14, 2008
This massive new software update, alternatively referred to as Apple TV 2.0 and Apple TV "Take 2," adds new features like direct rentals and purchases from the iTunes Store, freeing consumers from having to make these transactions from their PC and then copy the files over to the Apple TV.
It's Showtime! Renting & Buying TV Shows & Movies on the PC - January 31, 2008
There are various ways to evaluate today's TV show and movie services. But I think the market is neatly and logically bifurcated between Apple's offerings and the others, which all tend to use Microsoft's digital rights management (DRM) scheme. If you're looking at this from a high level, then, the decision about which service to use might be dictated by whether you're in the iTunes/iPod/iPhone camp.
Apple iPod touch Review - September 23, 2007
Ostensibly an iPhone without any phone features--sadly, it's missing more than that, actually--the iPod touch brings the iPhone's fantastic and innovative multi-touch interface to the iPod line for the first time. It is, almost, the iPod I've always wanted.
Apple iPod classic 6G Review - September 16, 2007
Sandwiched right in the middle of the iPod lineup, the iPod classic offers exactly one advantage over its siblings: Massive amounts of hard drive-based storage. Beyond that, it's considerably less cool than the iPod touch and iPhone, and considerably bulkier and less attractive than the iPod shuffle and nano. Even the name, with the coolness-averse "classic" moniker, suggests something that's past its prime.
Apple iPod nano 3G Review - September 16, 2007
The iPod nano 3G is an attractive, functional device with plenty of storage (for audio at least) and some new if somewhat esoteric features that make it even better than before. The iPod nano 3G once again raises the bar, and I suspect that Apple will sell millions of them, and deservedly so.
Apple iPod nano 3G Photo Gallery - September 16, 2007
In this new photo gallery, you can see the unboxing experience with the new Apple iPod nano 3G!
Apple iPod shuffle 2G (Late 2007) Review - September 10, 2007
Apple has just unveiled the latest update to the iPod shuffle 2G. That's right, it's not a new shuffle at all, but rather a subtle refresh to the device Apple first shipped a year ago. Once again, the only thing that's changed is the available colors: Now, instead of the bright colors the company introduced in January 2007, Apple instead offers a duller, more pastel-based palette.
Apple iTunes 7.4 Review - September 10, 2007
Aside from some troubling performance issues, iTunes 7.4 is top-notch, though this latest version is a somewhat minor update over the iTunes 7 release that Apple shipped a year ago. Here's what's new this year in iTunes.
Discover the Apple TV in my photo and screenshot galleries, which show off the device itself, the Apple TV user interface, and the iTunes management functionality!
Apple TV Review - March 24, 2007
I find the new Apple TV set-top box to be more evolutionary than revolutionary. Find out more in my latest review!
Apple iPod shuffle 2G Review - November 4, 2006
The new iPod shuffle is famously tiny and, like its predecessor, lacks a screen as well as other niceties such as an FM tuner. And you know what? Who cares? Like the iPod 5G and iPod nano, the new iPod shuffle is nearly perfect, an exhilarating combination of portability and usability. I love it.
Apple iPod with video (5G, Late 2006) Review - September 27, 2006
The new iPod with video isn't a huge improvement over last year's model, but then it's not like the iPod's predecessor was lacking in any huge ways. It continues Apple's tradition of excellence and remains, as before, the standard by which all other portable media players are measured. This is the best iPod yet. And you know you want one.
Apple iPod nano 2G Review - September 22, 2006
The second generation iPod nano is the best small-sized portable media player on the market today, and it builds on the excellence of its predecessor by fixing the scratching problem that marred previous versions while improving the battery life, providing a rainbow selection of colors from which to choose, and offering a lower price.
Apple iTunes 7 Review - September 21, 2006
Apple's iTunes 7 is the best software-based media jukebox I've ever used, despite several problems with the Windows version of this software. And of course, iTunes is 100 percent compatible with the finest portable media players on the planet. There are many reasons why I prefer iTunes over competing solutions, and with iTunes 7, the list has only gotten longer.
Hands on with Apple Front Row - October 25, 2005
The new iMac G5 ships with an exclusive digital media environment called Front Row, which can be controlled via a bundled remote control. Many people--myself included--have described Front Row as a Media Center rip-off because, well, that's exactly what it is.
Apple iPod nano Review - September 21, 2005
Though this might not seem possible, Apple's control of the digital music market is now even more secure than before. And there's nothing—absolutely nothing—that Microsoft can do about it. The iPod nano, dare I say it, is almost perfect.
Apple iPod photo Review - November 4, 2004
On October 26, Apple Computer introduced the iPod Photo, a $500-to-$600 iPod device that features a beautiful color screen and, for the first time on Apple's portable music player, the ability to watch and remotely display photo slide shows synchronized from your Macintosh or PC.
Apple Makes its Case for the Connected Home - July 21, 2004
There's never been a better time to support Apple. If you're interested in digital media, home networking, or personal computing--or perhaps all three, if you're reading this--than you should know that Apple's product line-up has never been stronger. So this week, I'd like to take a look at Apple's recent products, and see how they might fit in with the Connected Home.
Apple iPod mini Review - January 6, 2004
This week, Apple introduced iPod mini, the smallest portable music player ever to hold up to 1,000 CD-quality songs. iPod mini is encased in an ultra-portable, lightweight anodized aluminum body available in five colors--silver, gold, pink, blue or green--and features a patent pending, touch-sensitive Click Wheel for one-handed navigation.
Apple iTunes for Windows Review - October 29, 2003
Apple CEO Steve Jobs incorrectly described iTunes for Windows as "the best Windows application ever written." In truth, it's an excellent Mac application--my favorite jukebox on any platform, incidentally--that's been ported to Windows without even a token gesture toward making it Windows-friendly.
Apple iTunes 3 Review - March 5, 2003
Overall, iTunes 3 is an excellent, easy-to-use application and my favorite pure music player.
Apple iPod Review - December 18, 2001
Apple's portable MP3 player—the iPod—features the same design-savvy aesthetics as the company's iBook and PowerBook G4 systems, a generous 5GB of storage space, and yes, a hefty price. But any initial misgivings about the iPod are immediately forgotten when you pull the device out of its elegant box and see it firsthand.