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Why no iTunes for Windows 8 shouldn't surprise you

Microsoft says Apple's showing no signs of wanting to bring its popular jukebox software to Windows 8, but this was obvious.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Microsoft on Friday said users shouldn't expect a version of Apple's iTunes that's been specialized for Windows 8's new Metro interface "anytime soon." Though if you've been paying attention to the battle between the two companies, it should come as no surprise that Apple's dragging its feet.

iTunes is an immensely popular piece of software on the PC, and has been since Apple ported it over from the Mac in 2003. There were always two key reasons for that: one was selling content from the iTunes Store, and the other was providing a way for people to set up and sync the iPod, then later the iPhone and iPad.

But how people are using iTunes and acquiring content is changing, and it's changing fast. Users are increasingly getting content from iTunes on iOS devices. Last September, Apple said two-thirds of iTunes downloads were coming directly from iOS devices, instead of computers (both Macs and PCs) -- a staggering statistic given that built-in stores for these devices hadn't even existed five years prior.

Right now, Windows 8 users can still access the store and make purchases, but it's complicated. For one, Apple has not developed a version of iTunes for Windows 8 RT, Microsoft's version of Windows for ARM processors that runs on devices like the Surface RT. And when it is running on Windows 8 Pro devices that can load it, it's running in desktop mode -- which can still be used with a finger, but is not optimized for it -- hence a desire for a specialized version.

An Apple spokesman declined to provide information on the company's future software plans.

So why would Apple create something that would arguably give a rival platform more appeal? One good reason is why Apple made iTunes for Windows in the first place: money. Apple sells billions in digital content through iTunes each year. In this last quarter alone, the iTunes Store accounted for $2.4 billion of the $4.1 billion Apple's iTunes and software services brought in. That number is growing too, up 30 percent this past quarter from the same period a year ago.

Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet with Windows 8. It can run iTunes, but only in desktop mode.
Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet with Windows 8. It can run iTunes, but only in desktop mode. Microsoft

However, money like that is a drop in the bucket compared with how much Apple's making on iOS hardware and Mac hardware, which collectively topped more than 237 million units sold last year.

Ultimately, the key reason to keep it off Microsoft's platform is to make it less appealing, and protect both the iPad and the Mac. Microsoft is encouraging developers to make touch-screen applications in no small part to compete with Apple's (and Google's) growing legion of devices.

Apple knows full well, and has even touted, the advantages of having the right software to draw users toward a particular platform. It's currently in a place where it's often the first, and sometimes only, platform to get popular mobile software, and stands to reap the rewards of people buying its hardware as a result. Providing competitors with any advantage in that same game could spell trouble further down the road -- even if it's just a jukebox.

Updated at 11:20 a.m. with note from Apple.