Why can I gift internationally with Amazon... but not iTunes?

Earlier today Apple enabled iBooks gifting. It's been a long time coming. Steve Jobs introduced the iBookstore alongside the original iPad in 2010, and it's taken until well after the 5th generation, iPad Air, shipped in 2013 for gifting to become available. I was ecstatic at first, because I'd been "forced" to use Amazon's Kindle service to gift ebooks until now. Finally, I thought, I could gift iBooks. But I thought too soon. Apple and iTunes, I quickly remembered, only allows gifting to someone who uses the same regional account you do. So, for example, I can only gift an iBook - or iTunes song or movie or App Store app or whatever - from the iTunes Canada store my account is in, to someone who also uses the iTunes Canada store. That eliminates a ton of my friends who just happen to live in the U.S., the U.K., and elsewhere. Amazon, by contrast, not only lets me use my Amazon.ca account to login to Amazon.ca or Amazon.co.uk, but it lets me gift Kindle books, send gift certificates, and even order real material goods, for friends in those countries. In this increasingly important way, Amazon is absolutely pantsing Apple and iTunes.

Content deals are hard. International content deals are even harder. I can't even imagine how hard cross-national content deals are. But this simply truth remains - if I want to send an ebook to a friend of my, even one that lives in south bay, I have to use Amazon and their Kindle service, because iTunes simply can't or won't do it.

I realize some people simply get U.S. accounts, but a) with the way iTunes currently works, I'd have to get an account in every store I'd ever want to gift someone from. Worse, when you switch iTunes accounts, you're locked to that account for 90 days. (I've been unable to use iTunes Match for periods of over 3 months thanks to that.) Far worse, the U.S. account we used for iMore (so I could gift readers) is currently frozen due to international activity for reasons they're "not allowed" to elaborate on.

I also realize some people just as simply get VPNs so they can spoof U.S. IP addresses to avoid just the kind of problems I had above. But the point is, this shouldn't be my - or any customer's - problem to solve. It should be Apple's. It should "just work" so I can gift anyone, using any iTunes, iBooks, or App Store any content that's available in that store.

Apple is lightyears behind Amazon in many ways. There's still no Amazon MP3 or Video or much of any digital media content at all in Canada, and the Kindle Fire here remains an expensive (30% higher than U.S. sticker price) Kindle + Android app player. Yet I can open up Amazon.com and send a friend a gift certificate, an ebook, or an app, or any number of other things without any trouble at all.

Why can't I do that with iTunes?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I think the main issue is the way that the Apple ID system works where it is linked to everything. If gifting is allowed on books it would apply to apps, music & videos. I think the main issue is the some content isn't available in all stores on iTunes for example Pandora, or a film that is on the US iTunes store but not on the UK store, or a song that isn't available in other countries due to some stupid licensing reason. I believe these are the main reasons why Apple can't do it. However, they probably could make an exception for books if they tried unless there are licensing related issues, I don't know if Apple & Amazon have the same digital rights...This is most likely a legal matter.
  • If that's really the reason, it would be beyond silly, since that's a simple software issue that can be corrected by a competent staff in two weeks tops. It would imply that Amazon has much better developers and software engineers than Apple.
  • pepsijosh makes some excellent points, especially with regards to content availability and licensing rights.
    I suspect another hook is currency conversions.
    I agree, Rene, that with Apple's long standing "it just works" mantra doesn't always stand up and really, here and now, I expect all of Apple's products and services to work hand in hand. Imagine my disappointment as I , nay - we, have to continue to wait as the system takes it's baby steps towards that dream. Sent from the iMore App
  • Flip 'Apple' and 'Amazon' in the last paragraph or replace 'behind' with 'ahead'. ;-)
  • Maybe they don't receive that many gifting for internationally or the system doesn't process that way. I'm sure there are many reasons or just may not be a big priority for the company. Sent from the iMore App
  • This is getting to be more of an issue for me having moved back to Canada after years in the US (pre-dating the iPhone). Virtually all my purchased apps are from the US store, and I only used the Canadian store under another account for country exclusive apps. But now I can no longer buy iTunes cards for myself or be gifted cards that work with my primary account. :-( At least I *can* switch countries, unlike the nightmare that is Nintendo Network ID for WiiU/3DS...but still. Sent from the iMore App
  • Duplicate post, sorry.
  • This bites me all the time. So frustrating. I share your pain. Sent from the iMore App
  • I never have tried to gift someone from iTunes but I thought it would just work internationally. I'm sure there are a lot of issues, but the fact that Amazon does it means it can be done. Apple is really behind on this. Sent from the iMore App