With Apple's next media event scheduled for this Wednesday, attention turns to iPod and iTunes, which traditionally get their annual refresh at this time of year.
In contrast to the rude health of Apple's Mac, iPhone and iPad businesses, Apple's leadership in music is looking shakier than ever before. iPod sales have been flagging. Optimists would argue this is not a problem because it is symptomatic of the cannibalization of the music player market by the smart phone market, and iPhone sales are more than compensating for any dip in iPod revenue. This is certainly true, however, it hides a longer term uncertainty in Apple's business, since the smart phone market is fundamentally different to the music player business that it is replacing.
In the music player business, Apple enjoys a massive market leadership with its iPod line. As a result, they have also been able to dominate the music download business. However, despite the iPhone's success, it seems unlikely that Apple will ever be able to dominate smart phones in quite the same way. And as music downloads are increasingly being consumed on smart phones instead of dedicated music players, this presents a serious challenge to the dominance of iTunes.
Apple may choose to accept a long term decline in their market share for music downloads. After all, their almost monopolistic control of this market has become a little embarrassing, and sometimes limits their ability to negotiate with record labels who are often inclined to favor smaller rivals in order to level the playing field.
If, however, Apple is reluctant to relinquish their music market share without a fight, then one suprise announcement that we can expect to see on Wednesday will be iTunes for Android. This may seem an unlikely prospected, but if you cast your mind back a few years, iTunes for Windows would have seemed equally unlikely. It is a strategy that Steve Jobs has jokingly referred to as "a glass of ice water for people in hell". Give users on a competitor's platform a taste of how much better Apple products are, and they'll come back for more. iTunes for Android could be Apple's beachhead into the heart of Google's territory, leveraging their famed halo effect to take the battle to the new enemy.