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Droid lacks Apple's secret weapon: iTunes

It may be a great phone, but without iTunes, it'll have a hard time being a great music phone.

Apple outstripped Wall Street's expectations for the quarter ended September 30, and while the blowout quarter was mostly thanks to higher-than-expected Mac sales, the company also sold a record 7.4 million iPhones. But a lot of commentators think that the iPhone is finally going to meet its match with Droid.

You don't need an instruction manual to figure out how to get music onto your iPhone.

Announced this weekend by Verizon in a cheeky TV commercial, the Droid is a Motorola phone running Google's Android 2.0 operating system. The advertisement notes that the Droid will do things that the iPhone won't, like take pictures in the dark and run simultaneous apps (apparently playing music in the background, as the iPhone can do, doesn't count), and touts its open development process (a head-scratcher for non-techies, but it could mean more apps than the iPhone, someday). The first preview I've seen, from Boy Genius Report, was also positive. People are excited, and for good reason--competition drives innovation, which is good for consumers.

But here's the thing: one reason for the runaway success of the iPhone--and one of the reasons why Apple still continues to sell more than 10 million iPods per quarter--is iTunes. Not so much the store, although that's an important component, but the software. Of course there are plenty of other applications out there that help you rip CDs and organize your digital music collection. And there are plenty of other sources for online music. But the real strength of iTunes is in the sync process--you plug your iPhone in, iTunes opens up automatically and recognizes it. Hit the large "Sync" button and it automatically loads your music (and video, and apps, and anything else you choose) onto it. (With some devices, depending on your settings, you don't even need to hit "Sync.") That's the simple, consumer-friendly, end-to-end experience that Apple figured out first.

Contrast that with the multi-step process required to transfer music from a Windows PC to the first Android phone that was available in the U.S., last year's G1. Amazon provided over-the-air MP3 downloads for that phone, giving it a rough equivalent to the over-the-air version of the iTunes store, but let's face it: most digital music is not purchased, but is ripped from a CD or comes from some other source (legal or not).

Verizon, Motorola, and Google haven't said much about music for the Droid. Maybe they still have a musical trick or two up their collective sleeves. But without some sort of equivalent to the iTunes desktop application, the Droid may be a great phone, but it won't be a great music phone.