Apple, Real, and the user experience

First of all, a little apology: I’m playing catch-up at the moment, as I’m juggling three different features and hoping to somehow clear enough space to go off on holiday for a week. Ironically, of course, “not having a holiday” was one of the prime reasons that I became a freelancer – and here I am again not doing it!

But the advantage of being too busy for the kind of insta-comment that blogs are particularly good at is that you get the opportunity to sit back, relax, and produce something approximating a considered opinion. And there’s no story of the past couple of weeks that requires a considered opinion more than the whole spat between Real and Apple over Harmony, Real’s new technology which allows you to play songs bought from the Real Music Store on an iPod.

First, though, a recap on what the whole thing is about. At the moment, apart from unprotected MP3′s bought from stores like Warp Records excellent Bleep, you can’t buy legal music online which is compatible with the iPod from anyone except Apple. With the iPod running at anything between 17-50% of the portable music player market by units (depending on who you listen to), this is an enormous handicap for anyone else with a music store.

Real has previously approached Apple to license FairPlay, Apple’s DRM system used in the iPod and iTunes Music Store. Both Real’s store and Apple’s use AAC as their base music format, so it would be no big deal for Real to either drop Helix (it’s own DRM) or give customers a choice of both. However, this was rebuffed by Apple, with fairly typical (and ill-considered) Jobs words.

Hence, Real brings out Harmony, a system which effectively takes the Helix DRM and converts it into something which looks like FairPlay, at least to an iPod. It’s a classic piece of reverse engineering, which Real claims was based solely on publicly available information. Apple threw a minor hissy fit and accused Real of “hacker ethics”, which personally I wouldn’t take as an insult.

There’s a few bits of misinformation doing the rounds about this. The first is that Real is hacking the iPod. This isn’t true – there’s no changes to either iPod code, or the DRM on any songs you’ve purchased from Apple, and it’s one reason why any challenge from Apple under the DMCA is likely to fail. Secondly, this has nothing to do with Rhapsody, which is Real’s subscription music service. You can’t take a Rhapsody song and play it on the iPod. And finally, it has almost nothing to do with WMA. Real uses AAC for its Music Store-bought songs, not WMA, although according to Real, you can – via Harmony – play its Music Store-bought songs on a WMA-compatible player (which must mean that they’re converting the actual file, something they aren’t doing for play on the iPod).

My own opinion on this is a minor “hurrah for Real”. That’s not because I like Real, or would actually use their music store. On the contrary, I’m generally happy with iTMS, and also use Napster which I also like. But what Real is doing – and Apple is opposing – is increasing consumer choice, increasing competition, and both those things are good for consumers. You may think the Real store is rubbish, in which case you should of course use Apple’s. But at least you have a choice, something which it appears Apple would rather you didn’t have.

What’s really interesting, though, is some of the reaction of Mac users in comments up and down the various forums. One argument which has come up again and again is that the store and iPod add up to a whole user experience. It’s put best by “Kev” over at Engadget:

“To Apple, being able to buy a song from another store is not choice. Apple’s concept of choice is that it provides a desired customer experience on an alternative platform (player, jukebox, and store, and on the computer front: computer, OS, software, and even Apple retail store!). All pieces of Apple’s platform are well-integrated and work together to create the desired customer experience. If you choose the platform (or the experience), you are choosing the base hardware and all the software-critical pieces…

You may be right that the market for this type of experience is small, and that people prefer flexibility. Those people can choose WMA or Helix/Harmony/WMA. But don’t force Apple to mess up the only choice for those who want this end-to-end experience.”

This is an argument that I’ve heard many times over the years from Apple employees, justifying some proprietary method of working, but it’s not one that’s been popular at the core of Apple of late. Instead, the company has largely concentrated on taking pre-existing or emerging standards – 802.11b, for example – in implementing them in such a way as they’re compatible with everything else, but with a vastly better user experience.

The problem with Kev’s argument is that it doesn’t hold water. First of all, nothing that Real is doing changes the way that iTMS and iPod work together. Apple doesn’t have to support Harmony: that’s Real’s job. If Apple want’s to change its DRM (as it has in the past) for perfectly good technical or contractual reasons, it can – and if that breaks Harmony, it’s not Apple’s problem. Secondly, of course, there’s no real user-experience advantage to be gained by Apple tying iPod and iTunes Music Store together. Apple could, if it wanted to, use WMA instead of AAC, and the iPod could be reprogrammed to support it. Apple’s choices here have been made with the intention of maximising revenue, not maximising the user experience.

Of course, this “improving the user experience” argument is exactly the same one that Microsoft made when tying Internet Explorer into Windows, and again when tying Windows Media into Windows. These arguments were – rightly – laughed at not only by the majority of Mac users, but just about everyone else besides. Apple has simply torn a page out of the Microsoft play-book but the worst thing is that it appears Mac users – or at least the ones who comment on the Internet – are backing them, to the hilt.

Judging by the comments on Dan Gillmor’s story about this, Kev is actually one of the more calm commenters. Referring to increased consumer choice as “economic terrorism”, referring to those people who think that consumer choice is a good thing as “socialists” (I assume this is somehow perjorative), and much more besides appears to be the norm in the world of some Mac users. It’s depressing that some people become so dedicated to what is, in the end, a computer company that they’d willingly follow them to the ends of the Earth and back. Truly, some people are far too prepared to drink the Kool-Aid.

  • http://www.fibrowalls.com JK

    Wow, the first intelligent commentary on Harmony I’ve read so far!

    I’m a Mac user, and a semi-raving Apple fan! But I truly don’t understand why Apple hasn’t licensed Fairplay in the first place. If they can get every online music store to sell Fairplay AAC files, it would only serve to help iPod sales. The format music files are sold in is like the OS computers are sold with — the company that controls that has the upper hand in the type of hardware that is bought by consumers. Hence Microsoft’s interest in pushing WMA. Apple needs this upper hand to cement the long term success of the iPod, and to ensure it won’t fade away like the Macintosh had. Not to mention Apple could make a few extra bucks with the licensing fees!

  • jdb

    I’m very confused by all the commentary on this subject. I agree that Apple probably doesn’t have any legal recourse here but so what? It is still Apple’s software and without an agreement, I suspect that Real’s Harmony will never be allowed to work. Apple will simply disable it. Do that a few times and no one will buy a music track from Real to put on an iPod.

    None of that really matters though. What confuses me is all the punditry around Apple’s business plans. No one knows Apple’s future plans for the iPod and iTMS except Apple. Your opinion has very little relevance because you aren’t privy to Apple’s future plans. Apple does not disclose their long term plans. If Real’s decision to bypass Apple goes against Apple’s future plans, of course Apple will disable Harmony. Any business would.

    If, in Apple’s opinion Harmony is good for business they will allow it. If they decide that it isn’t good for business they will stop Harmony from working. But where do people get off trying to direct Apple’s business decisions by punditry? I just don’t see why anyone without all the facts feels that their opinion is important. Do you think you will have an influence on Apple’s future plans? Apple is a business. They weigh customer feedback against their future business needs. That weighting might change over time but I doubt random blog posts are going to have a significant impact.

    Apple will do what they feel is best and we will be able to watch from the sidelines to see who is right.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    I long ago learned that I have no influence whatsoever on Apple’s plans :)

    However, what I do know is that Apple executives have publically talked in past about the store as a way to sell more iPods. To quote Fred Anderson from here, “we think it will be a Trojan horse to get people to buy more iPods”. Has the strategy changed, thanks to the success of the Music Store? If so, it seems that the strategy has changed to leveraging the success of the iPod to pushing the music store – a classic case of using the dominance in one market to affect another, and something that Mac users have (rightly) criticised Microsoft for in the past.

  • cesman

    You say that: “First of all, nothing that Real is doing changes the way that iTMS and iPod work together. Apple doesn’t have to support Harmony: that’s Real’s job. If Apple want’s to change its DRM (as it has in the past) for perfectly good technical or contractual reasons, it can – and if that breaks Harmony, it’s not Apple’s problem. Secondly, of course, there’s no real user-experience advantage to be gained by Apple tying iPod and iTunes Music Store together. Apple could, if it wanted to, use WMA instead of AAC, and the iPod could be reprogrammed to support it. Apple’s choices here have been made with the intention of maximising revenue, not maximising the user experience.

    Things simply work together better when they come from one source. Plus, one company can implement new things faster (when it controls the hardware and software). Look at Airport Express, for example. This is the same approach apple has used for years, and yes they do it to maximize the user experience and innovate faster.

    The reality is that if other stores take off, and Harmony is licensed like Real promised, then Apple will be expected to make things work and get blamed for problems. It’s freedom of action will be diminished. It’s that total control that makes apple what it is. Like it or leave it.

  • jdb

    You said, “it seems that the strategy has changed to leveraging the success of the iPod to pushing the music store – a classic case of using the dominance in one market to affect another, and something that Mac users have (rightly) criticised Microsoft for in the past.”

    First of all, when has criticism ever affected Microsoft or any other company when that company is trying to dominate a market. That is what capitalism is all about. The stronger your brand and product, the more money you make. Every top company does it, IBM, Coca-Cola, Nike, Microsoft and even Apple. That is the way it is. Unless it is illegal such as the case for Microsoft and nearly the case for IBM because of anti-trust laws there is very little point in complaining about it. Companies will always look out for the bottom line first.

    And secondly, you are again making assumptions about Apple’s business plans. You and I have no idea what Apple is planning for the iPod and the iTunes Music store. The public face that Apple put forward a year ago may have nothing to do with the longer term plans. All the whining in the world is not going to convince Apple to give Real Networks free reign of the iPod if Apple’s business plans will be hurt by it.

    Apple is a business and all they care about is the bottom line. Consumers have some say because without someone buying their product Apple doesn’t make money, but the influence of individuals is very limited. And I’m guessing that outside of a few pundits, no one else is going to care if Apple blocks Real from having DRM music on the iPod. I certainly don’t care since Real doesn’t even support the Mac. The iTunes Music Store meets my needs and an additional catalog of the exact same tracks does nothing for me even if I was a Windows PC user.

  • jbelkin

    The problem is that people are thinking ANALOG and not DIGITAL. Right now, you can load EVERY TRACK you prchaed at EVERY other music store on this planet by burning it to a CD and transferring it into your ipod IN MINUTES using one of 6 format choices (3 loss less and 3 compressed) so the only reason REAL is doing this is to grab attention for themselves – as Simple as that. They cannot afford marketing – this is one way to get MILLION S of dollars of free PR and marketing and if one only examines the issues they bring in the Press RElease, you think it’s Robin Hood & The Sheriff!

    In fact, the ultimate irony is that REAL has built an entire business on locking media away – for real consumer choice, why not a REAL/RM/RAM file converter from Real’s proprietary format to something more universal like MP3 or M4P? How about that?

    Instead of trying to muck about with another comapnies format – what about universalizing their own?

    I think the best legal analogy is the itunes music store is valet parking. You decide if convenience over-rides other factors – if so, it’s another option – if you choose never to buy a track from itunes music store – your ipod works just fine. (People seem to think the ipod is a video gaming console that requires liceing from the hardware company before offering a game).

    In this case, REAL has decided to set up valet parking on Appl’e property. In the realw orld, this would be a prety crystal clear violation on my counts but in the digital world, people seem easily confused by the smoke-and-mirrors that a company called REAL is ironically dishing out.

  • http://www.clickauction.net/jgblog/ Johnathan

    It sure would be nice if Microsoft would port WMA-DRM v9 to the Mac platform (we have WMP v9 but not the DRM portion) so that I had the option to buy at other music stores, burn, and re-import.

    Or if Real would port their Helix DRM to the Mac to allow at least for song purchase and CD burning. (I think this is a bit more likely, perhaps even by the end of August.)

    But if Microsoft and Real really wanted to offer choice, why don’t they offer their DRM systems on the Mac, or (Gates & Glaser forbid) offer Fairplay AAC encrypted files to Mac users?

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    cesman: “Things simply work together better when they come from one source.”

    Of course, this is exactly the argument Microsoft used to promote Windows Media, to argue that everyone should buy Office, and to encourage the monocultural monopoly that Windows has in the work place. Is that true? I don’t think so. In fact, things work well together if companies either license their technologies or promote open standards.

    But even if you believe that the iTunes/iPod/iTMS combination works elegantly together, then surely Apple has nothing to worry about: if it is offering the best quality experience,then it will win in the marketplace (assuming it doesn’t go mad with its pricing).

    And that’s the worst thing about all this: Apple does offer a better music buying experience than Real, at the right price. It has nothing to fear from Harmony, and yet its knee-jerk reaction is to attempt to control the market, not win it.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    jdb: First of all, you can get a fair amount of information about what Apple’s plans are from what it says publicly at shareholder meetings, where its executives are unlikely to lie (as it would be illegal for them to do so). Secondly, of course, I talk to people at Apple every now and then.

    But most important of all, I’m not trying to influence Apple. Ultimately, I’ll vote with my wallet on this one: if I don’t like what Apple does re: Harmony, I’ll buy from someone else. However, company’s do change their behaviour due to public pressure: witness, for example, Nike’s changed business practices, as well as those of Microsoft itself (which has changed a lot over the past three years).

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    jbelkin: Converting from AAC to CD to AAC isn’t just inelegant, it’s introducing an extra layer of lossy compression (don’t forget that CD isn’t lossless).

    As for thinking it’s Robin Hood and the Sherriff… well I’ll always oppose things that narrow consumer choice. Apple’s refusal to license FairPlay does exactly that.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Johnathan: With Windows Media 10 not far away, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to port WMA9+DRM to the Mac at the moment, especially as there’s a few nice things in WMA 10. The difference, of course, is that if a company (such as Apple) wanted to produce a licensed version of WMA+DRM for the Mac, Microsoft would jump at the chance. Microsoft has no commercial interest whatever in keeping WMA’s DRM scheme off the Mac – in fact, if it could get it on the Mac and iPod it would be a big advantage to it.

  • cesman

    You said: “cesman: ‘Things simply work together better when they come from one source.’Of course, this is exactly the argument Microsoft used to promote Windows Media, to argue that everyone should buy Office, and to encourage the monocultural monopoly that Windows has in the work place. Is that true? I don’t think so. In fact, things work well together if companies either license their technologies or promote open standards. But even if you believe that the iTunes/iPod/iTMS combination works elegantly together, then surely Apple has nothing to worry about: if it is offering the best quality experience,then it will win in the marketplace (assuming it doesn’t go mad with its pricing).

    And that’s the worst thing about all this: Apple does offer a better music buying experience than Real, at the right price. It has nothing to fear from Harmony, and yet its knee-jerk reaction is to attempt to control the market, not win it.”

    But why is iTunes/iPod/iTMS/Airport Express a better experience? Think about this. The main reason it’s better is that they all come from one company and Apple doesn’t have to waste resources in a virtually impossible task of trying to make everything from multiple sources work together. Further, the coordination and effort required when multiple companies are involved makes implementing new innovations much, much more difficult.

    In your world, Apple would license Fairplay, or defacto license it by allowing Harmony to work, and there would 20 different online music stores, 10 different CD rippers/burners/jukeboxes, and 50 different portable players that the world starts using with Apple’s music platform. Once that ball is rolling full speed down the hill, Apple can’t stop it. Consumers will expect Apple to make things work, or not break things. Real will start blaming apple when things break, so will everyone else.

    Whether MS has made the same argument – who cares? I’m just talking about cold, hard real facts. Look, I wish you could have Apple’s high degree of integration and innovation and consistency of the user experience with 1000 companies involved. But look at Windows. Everything’s is “supposed” to be “compatible” It’s a fraud. Things don’t reliably work together. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t and it’s all horribly random and unpredictable. Maybe tech geeks can work around the problems, but not ordinary people. When it comes to a more consumer-oriented product like music, is it really a surprise that people don’t find “choice” so compelling, when “choice” means problems?

  • cesman

    One more thing, I’m all for open file formats and communication protocols, or even open APIs, when appropriate. At some point it may be appropriate to even license fairplay. But not yet. Apple has more innovating to do and it needs maximum control over the package of products to do that. Further, as a practical matter, there is pretty vigorous competition for Apple’s music platform, with more coming (new store from MS, etc.). Now if things get like they are with Office (stagnant product for years and years with no effective competition because of the compatibility issue), then we can reevaluate. You just have to look at these things case by case.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    cesman: Yes, Apple should license FairPlay. But that’s it: how a licensee uses FairPlay, and how they support their customers, is down to them. Philips and Matsushita (iirc) own the CD-Audio standard, and license it to others. Do they have to support every CD drive, every CD in existence? Of course not. Likewise, Fraunhofer own the rights to the MP3 codec. Is Fraunhofer expected by consumers to support MP3? Of course not.

  • George

    First of all, I don’t agree with your view Ian. That said, all would be well if Apple hadn’t gotten into a little snit. If they would have issued a release as simple as this…

    We’re delighted that Real thinks so highly of our music system that they would like to have their songs play in our pen. We understand that since Real doesn’t have a hardware component like the iPod, don’t have an integrated system, and don’t have consistent pricing, they are at a disadvantage and have a hard time competing on their own in the open marketplace. However, we change both our iPod firmware and our DRM specs as we add more features/services to our music system. Therefore, we can’t guarantee their (Real) music will work in the future and can’t offer support to those that might have problems with their Real music purchases.

    Then, make a change and screw Real :-)

  • cesman

    Point 1, the CD-Audio standard and mp3 standards are fixed. There’s no coordination required for implementing new stuff. Apple is hard at work innovating with its music platform, and can’t be tied down coordinating with a bunch of competitors like Real who would probably like to slow apple down.

    Second, customers aren’t going to call Phillips and Matsushita about a CD player that doesn’t work. They don’t even know who created the CD-audio standard. Same thing with mp3. Customers think in terms of hardware (more tangible) and they will call/blame apple when things break, fail to interoperate.

  • cesman

    Correction: if Phillips or Matsushita made the CD player, then they would get the support call. But not for a Sony player, etc.

  • cesman

    Fundamentally Ian, your view is naive. You just pronounce “Apple doesn’t have to support it,” but this doesn’t change the fact that if things developed as you like, then there will be this whole constellation of companies involved, all of them making disparate pieces that are supposed to work with Apple’s platform, and if apple tries to change the platform, customers will expect they coordinate with all these other companies and that things don’t break.

    Real will blame Apple when things break, you know this so don’t ignore it.

    So will everyone else.

  • NiteFlyer

    Once again, a web pundit failing to look at the deeper issue, and reacting to this whole debacle like just another sheep.

    If Real is so interested in promoting consumer choice, why no Mac version of Harmony? If Real is so interested in choice, why is it like looking for a needle in a haystack, trying to find and download the free version of their Real Player?

    Look behind the curtain… there’s no wizard there. Just another hungry leech looking to profit from someone else’s R & D. This isn’t about choice, it’s about Real trying in desperation to save their sad little music store.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    cesman: Oh come on now. There would be nothing to stop Apple updating or changing FairPlay because it’s licensed it. Microsoft does it with WMA, and hardly suffers for it (in fact, WMA 9 and the forthcoming 10 are far more complext and innovative than FairPlay, which is very much a “bare bones minimum” DRM system). What’s more, of course, it would give Apple a slice of the pie every time a song was sold from Real’s store – more income, which would offset the costs of working with licensees.

    Why would Real like Apple to slow down any changes to FairPlay? Any changes would be as advantageous to Real as the Apple. In fact, licensees would probably encourage Apple to update FairPlay fast if it was cracked – after all, they’d be losing revenue too.

    If you have a CD that doesn’t work in your drive, who do you call? The maker of the drive, or the people that sold you the CD?

    And yes, if Apple changes FairPlay with the intention of breaking Harmony, I would bet that Real would blame it. If, of course, Apple had licensed FairPlay to Real, it wouldn’t have done anything of the sort.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    NiteFlyer: Please feel free to explain what you think the deeper issue is.

    Secondly, please don’t put words into my mouth. I didn’t say Real was interested in consumer choice: few companies (including Apple) ever are. I said that Harmony was good for consumer choice. You now have the choice of purchasing legal 192kbps AAC’s which work on the iPod. Before Harmony, you didn’t have that choice.

    Increased choice = good. Technology lock-ins, whether they’re from Apple, Real, or Microsoft = Bad. How tricky is this one to understand?

  • Al

    iPod buyers do not buy iPods to download legal DRMed music. They buy iPods to have the coolest, easiest to use MP3 player on the market. They buy the best player/software combo available, iPod/iTunes. It works on the latest, most powerful, most popular, easiest to use personal computers made, Mac and Windows computers. It downloads and plays the best cuts from your entire library of legacy CD’s with astounding ease. The fact that in 4 countries out of well over a hundred you can buy and download a few extra digital recordings is a bonus for those residents, not a choice limiter.

  • cesman

    You said: “cesman: Oh come on now. There would be nothing to stop Apple updating or changing FairPlay because it’s licensed it. Microsoft does it with WMA, and hardly suffers for it (in fact, WMA 9 and the forthcoming 10 are far more complext and innovative than FairPlay, which is very much a “bare bones minimum” DRM system).”

    MS is “suffering for it.” There’s no super easy sharing of libraries across a network (too many different WMA jukeboxes to coordinate this). There’s no airport express like easy wireless music streaming (again, too many WMA licensees slows everything down).

    “If you have a CD that doesn’t work in your drive, who do you call? The maker of the drive, or the people that sold you the CD?”

    See, that’s the problem, who do you call if there’s a problem. Then you get the finger pointing, the CD player maker blames the CD. The CD maker blames your player. Now audio CDs are pretty foolproof so in practice it’s not an issue. But digital music is not foolproof, it’s hard, apple is blazing new territory.

    Also, did you ever think, Apple doesn’t want a problem? Saying, “apple doesn’t have to support it,” doesn’t change the fact that a customer had a problem with an iPod. Apple doesn’t want the problem, they don’t want to debate who has to support the problem, whose fault it is. THEY WANT NO PROBLEM IN THE FIRST INSTANCE.

    “And yes, if Apple changes FairPlay with the intention of breaking Harmony, I would bet that Real would blame it. If, of course, Apple had licensed FairPlay to Real, it wouldn’t have done anything of the sort.”

    Intention is irrelevant. If apple innovates, implements new stuff, it’s going to break the old stuff, intentional or not. And Apple will get blamed by Real.

  • cesman

    Increased choice based on dozens of companies participating = more problems, glitches, Slower innovation.

    How tricky is this one to understand? All you have to do is look at windows.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    cesman: I’m sure Apple would love to be suffering from the operating systems market share that Microsoft is.

    Licensing is not the same as participation. With licensing, one company sets a standard and licenses it to anyone else who’s prepared to pay. If the standard needs changing, it’s the owner of the standard that does the changing.

    No easy streaming of WMA? Take a look at Andromeda, an open source project which does exactly that. AirPort Express? Take a look at the Slim Squeezebox, which does lots more – and there are other competing products. Choice in action, again.

    And again: the problem of breakage is simply avoided if Apple licenses to Real. Then, no one has any problems, and Apple makes more money.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Alan: You’re right that the primary use of the iPod today is for playing ripped CDs, not bought songs. However, it doesn’t take much of a collection of bought songs to dissuade you from moving platforms. I have about 190 songs bought from the iTunes Music Store, worth around £100. That could be enough to dissuade me from buying anything but another iPod, which is of course what Apple wants. It’s a lock in, pure and simple.

  • cesman

    You said: “cesman: I’m sure Apple would love to be suffering from the operating systems market share that Microsoft is.”

    You’re changing the subject. The question was whether licensing fairplay would harm the user experience and slow apple’s innovation of its music platform.

    “Licensing is not the same as participation. With licensing, one company sets a standard and licenses it to anyone else who’s prepared to pay. If the standard needs changing, it’s the owner of the standard that does the changing.”

    Yes, Apple changes the iPod to improve it and then Harmony-enabled songs break, Apple gets blamed, consumers are confused who is at fault and apple’s reputation for ease of use, reliablity and consistency is harmed.

    “No easy streaming of WMA? Take a look at Andromeda, an open source project which does exactly that. AirPort Express? Take a look at the Slim Squeezebox, which does lots more – and there are other competing products. Choice in action, again.”

    They may do more, but these are geek options. Too hard for mortals.

    “And again: the problem of breakage is simply avoided if Apple licenses to Real. Then, no one has any problems, and Apple makes more money.”

    Licenses does not change anything. Apple could license fairplay so Napster, Real, 12 other companies jukeboxes work with the iPod. Then, when apple changes/improves/evolves the iPod or introduces new hardware that uses fairplay and requires changes to fairplay, either (1) they work out with all these others in advance ways to prevent things from breaking or (2) all the songs purchase from these sites breaks. It’s (1) or (2), take your pick. If you do (1), innovation is slowed down because coordinating with companies, making sure nothing breaks takes time. It just does, stop ignoring that.

  • cesman

    I guess my point is: there’s no free lunch. Things have upsides and downsides. The problem is you have big blinders on and won’t acknowledge the downsides of open platforms like WMA.

    Sure, apple’s closed approach means less choice, less flexibility for consumers, and even insulates apple from competition to some degree (although in this case there’s sufficient competition right now to motivate apple – it’s not like with MS Office).

    That’s all true. Those are all the downsides to closed.

    But it’s just naive and immature to think there’s no downsides to open platforms. There are.

    That’s why it’s best to have both out there, closed and open competiting with each other, each offering what they have to offer to the marketplace.

    Apple’s approach is closed. That has upsides. And downsides. Got it?

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    cesman: I’m not changing the subject. You’re claiming that licensing makes things more complicated, based on the evidence of how things work in the operating system’s market. And, again, if Apple licensed FairPlay to Real, there would be no Harmony, there would be nothing to break, and Apple would make more money.

    “They may do more, but these are geek options. Too hard for mortals.”

    - Have you used them?

    “making sure nothing breaks takes time.”

    - Sure. But how long? A DRM system is not that complex a piece of software, and especially so in FairPlay’s case (if I can understand how it works, it can’t be that complex! :) ).

    Think of the example of QuickTime. When Apple released a new version of QuickTime, did Microsoft have to upgrade Internet Explorer to view new QuickTime content? No, of course not. The same goes for a store and a player. Do it all – license management, playback – through a middleware layer like QuickTime, and nothing breaks.

    And of course, that’s exactly what Apple does: FairPlay is handled through QuickTime, not iTunes, which is why you can play a FairPlay-protected track through any application which supports QT. All Apple has to do is update QuickTime, and bingo – it just works, in ALL applications which support QT playback.

    And, of course, FairPlay is backwards compatible. A track which you bought with an older licensing scheme didn’t suddenly stop playing when Apple updated the conditions for FairPlay.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Sure, there are downsides to open platforms. But there are no downsides to open competition. What’s kept Intel producing faster chips? Competition from AMD. What’s kept Microsoft improving Windows? Competition from Apple and Linux. And what’s going to keep Apple innovating with the iPod? Competition from WMA-based players.

    Locking people in to the iTMS by ensuring that their legal, bought-online music ONLY plays on the iPod is basically saying “we can’t compete fairly. We can only ring-fence our market.” It’s the same tactics that Mac users have criticised Microsoft for, repeatedly and rightly, for years – and I apply the same standards to Apple.

  • cesman

    “I’m not changing the subject. You’re claiming that licensing makes things more complicated, based on the evidence of how things work in the operating system’s market.”

    Right, and market share has nothing to do with that. I mean, windows may indicate that open systems get more market share, but this doesn’t speak to useability, speed of innovation.

    “And, again, if Apple licensed FairPlay to Real, there would be no Harmony, there would be nothing to break, and Apple would make more money.

    Licensing doesn’t make a difference, apple still is slowed down innovation-wise by having to publish a revised fairplay that works with all kinds of different companies products.

    “They may do more, but these are geek options. Too hard for mortals.”

    - Have you used them?

    Squeezbox requires setting up a server. Most people don’t know, or want to know, how to do that. It’s a geek process. Airport express works right from within iTunes. If you can’t see that’s easier, your hopeless.

    As for an open source project, again, you have to install stuff, trouble shoot it. Open source has not done well outside the geek realm. Jeez, wonder why that is. Comparing an open source project with zero support to clicking off a couple of check boxes in iTunes (a supported product), well, that is silly.

    “making sure nothing breaks takes time.

    - Sure. But how long? A DRM system is not that complex a piece of software, and especially so in FairPlay’s case (if I can understand how it works, it can’t be that complex! :) ). Think of the example of QuickTime. When Apple released a new version of QuickTime, did Microsoft have to upgrade Internet Explorer to view new QuickTime content? No, of course not. The same goes for a store and a player. Do it all – license management, playback – through a middleware layer like QuickTime, and nothing breaks.”

    YOu admitted my point, it takes time. How much?

    Too much. You know, Quicktime is not even updated all that often.

    Another thing is disclosure of new ideas. If apple has to clear everthing with licensees, then they learn apple’s plans and can implement competing stuff before apple goes to market. It removes/diminishes apple’s incentive to come up with new stuff. That’s another problem with the innovation by committe approach.

  • cesman

    “Locking people in to the iTMS by ensuring that their legal, bought-online music ONLY plays on the iPod is basically saying “we can’t compete fairly. We can only ring-fence our market.” It’s the same tactics that Mac users have criticised Microsoft for, repeatedly and rightly, for years – and I apply the same standards to Apple.”

    No, apple uses a closed system to make a better product, not to make exhorbitant profits. That’s the difference.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    “Right, and market share has nothing to do with that.”

    - Which is precisely the opposite of what you’re saying. You’re saying that more licensees = more problems. More licensees = more market share.

    “Quicktime is not even updated all that often.”

    - QuickTime is updated every time FairPlay is. It’s the engine that does the encoding/decoding behind FairPlay. So all a licensee has to do is ensure that when Apple changes FairPlay, its users update QuickTime and bingo – no problems.

    Really, you’re trying to make what is a non-issue sound like some huge technical conundrum.

    “If apple has to clear everthing with licensees, then they learn apple’s plans and can implement competing stuff before apple goes to market.”

    - Apple does not have to clear anything with licensees. Do you think MS clears things with Real, Napster and OD2 when it wants to update WMA?

    “No, apple uses a closed system to make a better product, not to make exhorbitant profits. That’s the difference.”

    - Everytime Apple has used a completely closed system, it has ultimately flopped in the market – no matter how good it is. The Mac, incidentally, is not a closed system. Neither is OS X. Neither are the core technologies – QuickTime, Rendezvous, 802.11b/g, etc etc – which are its biggest successes.

    But ultimately, if you’re happy to be locked in, you’re happy to be locked in. I’m not.

  • cesman

    “Right, and market share has nothing to do with that.

    - Which is precisely the opposite of what you’re saying. You’re saying that more licensees = more problems. More licensees = more market share.”

    Well, certainly I was tempted to argue that more licensees and more market share = more problems. But that’s not necessarily always true. Market share and useabilty are two different things, that can be and should be evaluated separately. That’s why it’s changing the subject to respond to an assertion about useability by talking about market share. You may be right that apple will lose share, like with the mac. What’s clear is that apple won’t sacrifice useability to gain share. That’s what happened with the mac.

    “Quicktime is not even updated all that often.

    - QuickTime is updated every time FairPlay is. It’s the engine that does the encoding/decoding behind FairPlay. So all a licensee has to do is ensure that when Apple changes FairPlay, its users update QuickTime and bingo – no problems.”

    Right now when apple changes fairplay (and quicktime) it doesn’t have to worry about breaking 12 other companies jukebox software, or the Dell DJ or iRiver this or that. So it’s simple to change fairplay. Apple has much less to worry about, and no other parties to check with, make sure nothing breaks or that fixes are in place. So the task would get a lot harder. The present experience (easy change of fairplay) is not what we would have.

    “If apple has to clear everthing with licensees, then they learn apple’s plans and can implement competing stuff before apple goes to market.

    - Apple does not have to clear anything with licensees. Do you think MS clears things with Real, Napster and OD2 when it wants to update WMA?”

    As soon as apple gives them the beta, they can see what is new, before it’s released. for example, if apple changes fairplay to allow wireless sharing of music between iPods, it can’t just, one day, announce new iPods and fairplay that have that capability. All the licensees songs and players could break. So apple has to release the new version ahead of time, to work out kinks before public release, revealing its plans.

    “No, apple uses a closed system to make a better product, not to make exhorbitant profits. That’s the difference.- Everytime Apple has used a completely closed system, it has ultimately flopped in the market – no matter how good it is. The Mac, incidentally, is not a closed system. Neither is OS X. Neither are the core technologies – QuickTime, Rendezvous, 802.11b/g, etc etc – which are its biggest successes.”

    Again, you may be right about losing share. But I’m only arguing with you about whether licensing would degrade useability/speed of innovation for apple’s music platform. I’m not disputing your points on share, so you don’t need to keep bringing them up.

    Apple’s biggest success is rapid innovation and implementation of new things, and supreme ease of use for the non-technically inclined. That’s based on its refusal to license the mac os to other hardware makers, and self-production of a lot of software. Same thing on music – it’s all based on the refusal to let 1000 companies in on the party, which just degrades the whole experience in my book, at least currently.

  • Robert Tedder

    Real specified the iPod in relation to Harmony?

    I am not aware that Real mention any other DRM or technology but Apple’s.

    If this is correct, this is not altruistic widening of choice but merely piggy-backing on one other competitor’s success.

    I totally agree that this is a lazy, greedy commercial effort to prop-up a failed business model. I also agree that by introducing an attempt to interfere with the function of iPod, there will be upset for the users who will likely blame Apple first. It is perfect human nature that if Product A has been botched by the user deploying illegal/unwarrantied Process B on it, they will be complaining to Product A’s helpdesk first.

    If I were Apple I’d be reaching for rat poison.

  • Al

    Ian – You are not locked in. Run you tunes through iMovie or iPhoto and strip the DRM without loosing sound quality. It’s quite easy. Then buy a Real compatable player for your collection of AAC’s and MP3′s. Oh, and good luck with the real music stores, you’er going to need it. Enjoy your freedom from iPod/iTunes oppression.

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