Apple's Captive Audience - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Mobile // Mobile Applications
Commentary
10/20/2005
11:08 AM
Commentary
Commentary
Commentary
50%
50%

Apple's Captive Audience

One year ago, Apple Computer dumped iTunes 4.7 on millions of unsuspecting customers. If that sounds like an ominous way to describe a routine software update, it's because this "update" -- or, if you prefer, "trojan horse" -- is more notorious for what it took away from users' systems than for what it added.

One year ago, Apple Computer dumped iTunes 4.7 on millions of unsuspecting customers. If that sounds like an ominous way to describe a routine software update, it's because this "update" -- or, if you prefer, "trojan horse" -- is more notorious for what it took away from users' systems than for what it added.In fact, the most memorable new "feature" in iTunes 4.7 was its ability to snoop through its customers' systems, to break third-party software, and to keep Apple's iTunes Music Store customers to use their own property. If this doesn't sound like an experience worth paying several hundred dollars to enjoy, then join the club.

A little background: One of the ways Apple manages protected content, including music you buy from the iTunes Music Store, is to make every iPod upload a one-way trip: You can't move music between computers, and you can't even download it to the same computer. As the name suggests, iPod Download simply restores the two-way connection that Apple's own crippleware took away.

Apple's response to having its crippleware un-crippled? That's right: iTunes 4.7, an application that enables Apple to keep telling you when, where, and how you can use the products you just purchased from the company Think different, indeed.

Apple's running battle against the iPod Download was, at first (and second) glance, a spectacular failure: A patched, iTunes 4.7-compatible version of the software quickly surfaced, as have many similar types of software. Or, if you'd rather wipe Apple's smudgy DRM fingerprints off your iTunes purchases entirely, there are free, easy to use tools available to convert Fairplay-wrapped files to MP3, Ogg Vorbis, or various other non-crippled formats.

Besides giving customers a choice of music players -- iTunes on Windows isn't bad, but it really isn't that good, either -- converting one's iTunes purchases to an open format deals with another issue: Apple's increasingly obvious penchant for building bait-and-switch tactics into its iTunes and iPod software. Last March, iTunes 4.7.1 imposed a five user per-day limit on the number of users allowed to access an iTunes library over a local network. Motorola's iTunes-enabled mobile handset, for all of its geek-chic hipster appeal, is also the only device besides the iPod to support Fairplay DRM-protected content, which means that if you ever switch to a Windows, Palm, or Linux smartphone, you'll be parting ways -- permanently -- with your now-incompatible mobile music collection.

The same caveat applies, by the way, to Apple's new Video iPod -- a device saddled with a long list of DRM-enforced restrictions, including refusing to play content ripped from your own DVDs, whether or not you own them legally. Not that it matters, since there's now a free, open-source licensed tool allowing you to rip DVD movies to your iPod anyway.

When I look at Apple's DRM technology from a practical point of view, I keep arriving at the same conclusion: Fairplay, just like every similar scheme I've encountered, is junk technology: It adds absolutely no value to the products it claims to protect; it annoys and places unnecessary restrictions upon paying customers; and it's absurdly easy to break or to remove, which makes it utterly useless as an anti-piracy measure.

If that's true, then why does Apple bother with it? Because the company wants, more than anything else, to make one action more difficult than putting up with its antics: not putting up with its antics. For most users, it will always be easier to keep paying for new iPods, or iPod cell phones, or whatever comes next, rather than mucking around with unfamiliar software -- especially when Apple breaks that software just often enough to make it look scary and suspicious to the majority of its captive audience.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Slideshows
10 Top Cloud Computing Startups
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  8/3/2020
Commentary
How Enterprises Can Adopt Video Game Cloud Strategy
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  7/28/2020
Commentary
Conversational AI Comes of Age
Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary,  8/7/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
Special Report: Why Performance Testing is Crucial Today
This special report will help enterprises determine what they should expect from performance testing solutions and how to put them to work most efficiently. Get it today!
Slideshows
Flash Poll