The World of Apple to a User Outside of the USA

As many other Mac and iOS users, I follow every Apple keynote with great anticipation. During my first years as a Mac user I got caught up in the moment and thought of all the new opportunities new hardware or software could provide. But after the first excitement I usually went to apple.com to read all the asterisks on the new pages and sometimes I found texts like “Available on iTunes in the U.S. and Canada only”. I also went to apple.se and couldn't find any trace whatsoever of a product. After a few years I got used to it and nowadays I'm always cautious to all the exciting announcements during a keynote.

But to be honest, Apple's effort to help the music, movie, tv and book publishing industries with the transition into the digital era is something they should be proud of. And I do realize that it's much easier to sign deals with a few companies/studios etc and get access to the huge US market in contrast to signing deals with every single company/studio in every European country.

So what's it like if you live outside the big countries like USA, Canada, UK, Germany and France? Well, things don't look that good if you, like me, live in Sweden.

See any difference between these two screenshots? Guess which one is from the Swedish iTunes Store and which one is from the US iTunes Store…

iTunes Store: Movies

In the US iTunes Store you can choose from thousands of movies, both in standard and high definition. You also have the option to either purchase or rent a movie. All major Hollywood movie studios release their movies on iTunes Store.

As the screenshot above shows, there isn't even a movie section in the Swedish iTunes Store. Except for three Pixar short films, there actually is a movie, but you can only find it if you use the Browse quick link. The movie is All Together Now, a documentary about The Beatles and Yoko Ono.

iTunes Store: TV Shows

There is a great selection of TV shows in the US iTunes Store, all commercial-free. Some of them can be viewed in HD quality and you can also buy a Multi-Pass which lets you watch a month's worth of episodes. (I would probably use it to watch the Colbert Report.) I'm not really sure if there are any major studios missing, but browsing the TV Shows section shows you a lot of shows. The only show that I usually follow and didn't find was Game of Thrones, but the rest is there.

iTunes Store: Books (or iBookstore)

I'm a book lover and after buying the iPad 2, I have started to read books on my iPad a lot more than I first thought. So what exciting books can I buy when I tap on the iBooks icon on my iPad 2? Well…

…none actually, since they're all free and (almost) all books are from Project Gutenberg. Yes, there are many classics, but it would be nice to buy and read books that are written after 1923. So if you love Jane Austen or "Great Russian Writers", you'll be satisfied.

But there are a few exceptions. Apple Developer Publications has books such as Cocoa Fundamentals Guide and iOS Application Programming. The only book released this side of the millennium, except Apple's, is The Royal Wedding - Official Souvenir Programme. Great… (A funny side note: The “Customers Also Bought” section for The Royal Wedding shows only one title, The Art of War.)

Apple TV

Since there aren't any movies or TV shows to buy and/or rent, I could probably use an Apple TV to watch my own ripped movies and TV shows via AirPlay streaming. Theoretically speaking, yes. But Apple doesn't even sell the new Apple TV in Sweden and the old one is gone, so all the cool features like AirPlay streaming, mirroring and Photo Stream in iOS 5 won't work for me. It sure sounded cool during the keynote, right?

There would be a quite big market for an equivalent to MLB's live streaming of games, but covering the Swedish hockey league, Elitserien, or the Swedish football league, Allsvenskan (or soccer as they call it in the USA).

I do hope they start selling it in Sweden when iOS 5 gets released, but I don't actually think that will happen this year.

Gift Cards

Since the Swedish iTunes Store doesn't have all the goodies, a solution has been used by many users for years: the gift cards. With a gift card and an account with a US address gets you access to the US iTunes Store. Thanks to Ebay and similar sites, you can buy gift cards and use them for purchasing content even though you're living outside of the US.

iTunes Match

You know the new cool feature the they talked about in the latest keynote, WWDC 2011? “Coming this fall”, but only if you live in the US. Once again, this kind of service requires a lot of negotiations and Sweden is probably not a priority market so I don't expect it to arrive in Sweden this year.

iDisk/MobileMe

This is an old issue and iDisk and MobileMe will shutdown due to the introduction of iCloud. A few years ago I tried to use iDisk, but to use the service and live on this side of the Atlantic Ocean was a no-go. It was tremendously slow and was totally useless. I don't know the speed for US users, but a lot of Europeans had this issue. A Google search for the phrase idisk slow in europe shows 598,000 hits. And this went on for my whole MobileMe experience (three years). I assume that the iCloud service will be significantly faster or else it's dead in Europe.

The Original iPhone

The original iPhone, released in 2007, did never sell in Sweden. Instead we had to wait for the 3G model. Luckily I could get my hands on an original iPhone thanks to a friend buying one in the US. At that time the iPhone was something completely new and it really blew my mind and if it weren't for the jailbreaking tools I wouldn't be able to use one until the 3G.

Summary

As you can see there are lot of things that are not available to me as an Apple user living in a small European country. One solution, I guess, would be to treat the European Union (EU) as one market and not as 27 different markets. When Apple then signs a deal with a movie studio or record company, the deal is for the whole region and not for a specific country. Apple has major deals regarding the markets in UK, France, Germany and Italy. If EU would pass a law that treats the European markets as one, we would have a much better Mac, iOS and iTunes experience. I hope that happens soon, but I won't hold my breath.

by Stefan Laketa