What MP3 Players Can You Use With iTunes?

iTunes compatible MP3 Players
image credit: DavidGoh/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

When we think of the smartphones and MP3 players that are compatible with iTunes, the iPhone and iPod are probably the only things that come to mind. But did you know that there are other MP3 players, made by companies other than Apple, that are compatible with iTunes—and, with some add-on software, that many smartphones can also sync music with iTunes?

What Does iTunes Compatibility Mean?

Being compatible with iTunes can mean two things: being able to sync content to an MP3 player or smartphone using iTunes or being able to play music purchased from the iTunes Store.

This article only focuses on being able to sync content using iTunes.

If you want to know about the compatibility of music bought at iTunes, check out How MP3 and AAC Are Different.

Current iTunes-Compatible MP3 Players 

As of this writing, there are no MP3 players made by any company other than Apple that works with iTunes out of the box. There is software that can make other MP3 players iTunes-compatible (more on that later in the article), but none with native support.

There are two reasons for this. First, Apple generally blocks non-Apple devices from working natively with iTunes. Second, thanks to the dominance of smartphones, relatively few traditional MP3 players are still being made. In fact, the iPod lineup is probably the only significant MP3 player line still in production.

MP3 Players No Longer Supported by iTunes

The situation was different in the past, though. In the early days of iTunes, Apple built support for a number of non-Apple devices into the Mac OS version of iTunes (the Windows version didn't support any of these players).

Though these devices couldn't play music bought from the iTunes Store, and thus couldn't sync that music, they did work with traditional MP3s managed through iTunes.

The non-Apple MP3 players that were compatible with iTunes were:

Creative LabsNakamichiNikeSONICBlue/S3

Nomad II

SoundSpace 2

psa]play 60

Rio One
Nomad II MG psa]play120Rio 500
Nomad II c  Rio 600
Nomad Jukebox  Rio 800
Nomad Jukebox 20GB  Rio 900
Nomad Jukebox C  Rio S10
Novad MuVo  Rio S11
   Rio S30S
   Rio S35S
   Rio S50
   Rio Chiba
   Rio Fuse
   Rio Cali
   RioVolt SP250
   RioVolt SP100
   RioVolt SP90

All of these MP3 players are discontinued. Support for them still exists in some older versions of iTunes, but those versions are years out of date at this point and that support will vanish when you upgrade iTunes.

The HP iPod

There's one other interesting footnote to iPod history that features an MP3 player that worked with iTunes: the HP iPod. In 2004 and 2005, Hewlett-Packard licensed the iPod from Apple and sold iPods with the HP logo. Because these were true iPods just with a different logo on them, they were, of course, compatible with iTunes. The HP iPods were discontinued in 2005.

Why iTunes Doesn't Support Non-Apple Devices

Conventional wisdom might suggest that Apple should allow iTunes to support the largest number of devices possible in order to get the most users for iTunes and the iTunes Store that it can. While this makes some sense, it doesn't fit with how Apple prioritizes its businesses.

The iTunes Store and the content available there is not the primary thing Apple wants to sell. Rather, Apple's top priority is to sell hardware—like iPods and iPhones—and it uses the easy availability of content at iTunes to do that. Apple makes the vast majority of its money on hardware sales and the profit margin on the sale of a single iPhone is more than the profit on the sale of hundreds of songs at iTunes.

If Apple were to allow non-Apple hardware to sync with iTunes, that might cause consumers to buy non-Apple devices, something the company wants to avoid whenever possible.

Compatibility Blocked By Apple

In the past, there have been some devices that could sync with iTunes out of the box. Both streaming software company Real Networks and portable hardware maker Palm at one time offered software that made other devices iTunes compatible. The Palm Pre could sync with iTunes, for instance, by pretending to be an iPod when it communicated with iTunes. Because of Apple's drive to sell hardware, though, the company updated iTunes a number of times to block this feature.

By after being blocked in a number of versions of iTunes, Palm abandoned those efforts.

Software That Adds iTunes Compatibility

So, as we've seen, iTunes doesn't support syncing with non-Apple MP3 players anymore. But, there are a number of programs that can add to iTunes to allow it to communicate with Android phones, Microsoft's Zune MP3 player, older MP3 players, and other devices. If you have one of those devices and want to use iTunes to manage your media, check out these programs: 


Want tips like this delivered to your inbox every week? Subscribe to the free weekly iPhone/iPod email newsletter.