Doing it Wrong

Wired has an interesting article comparing the way things are done at Apple and how that differs from other Silicon Valley companies.  The article focuses quite a bit on Steve Jobs’ management style and business philosophy.

It is a pretty balanced, interesting read, even if the author does echo the complete B.S. about the iPod and iTunes being inextricably tied to each other (a favorite lie of tech journalism).

Ironically, Kahney makes an interesting point towards the end of the article:

Amazon’s Kindle e-reader provides seamless access to a proprietary selection of downloadable books, much as the iTunes Music Store provides direct access to an Apple-curated storefront. And the Nintendo Wii, the Sony PlayStation 3, and the Xbox360 each offer users access to self-contained online marketplaces for downloading games and special features.

The iTunes music (and video) store is nothing more than an add-on to the iPod (and AppleTV).  It’s a part of the system.  (Although, I can use iTunes completely independently from my iPod, and can play non-iTunes purchased music on my iPod.)  It’s funny how people don’t attack Nintendo for not making games downloaded from the Virtual Console playable on a Sony PlayStation; it would be ridiculous to suggest that they should.  It’s ironic that iTunes is way more open than any of the other services mentioned in the previous paragraph, yet somehow people (tech journalists) can’t bash Apple enough for making the iPod and iTunes work together.

I give Kahney and Wired credit, though; it’s a rare thing in the world of tech journalism to admit when you’re wrong (especially when it comes to Apple).  In a sidebar to the main article, they do just that.

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5 comments on “Doing it Wrong

  1. Being a musician, you should know what the gripe is about the iPod/iTunes “lock in”.  The gripe is that you can’t buy a song from iTunes and play it on anything but an iPod.  This is different from video games where games are sold for a certain console (or PC).  Games have always been that way.  You couldn’t buy an original NES game cartridge and play it on anything else.  You couldn’t buy a SNES cartridge and play it on a Sega Genesis or vice versa.  That’s the way video games are.

    Music, however, is different.  I can buy a CD play it on any CD player I want.  I can rip the music to my computer and play it on my computer or any number of portable music devices.  I can’t do that with music I buy off iTunes.  I can play it on my computer through iTunes or play it on the iPod.  With the introduction of DRM-free music from iTunes, I can play those on any device that will play .AAC files, but Apple charges a premium for that content, while Amazon is selling DRM-free music for less than Apple’s DRM’d music.  Apple is benefiting from the lock in no matter how you swing it.  If I invested a whole lot of money into digital music that I purchased from Apple (pre-non-DRM), I would have no choice but to always have an iPod.  And yes, I know I could burn those to CD and then rip the CD, but that’s a pain in the you-know-what and that may also violate the DMCA.  The only legal way to purchase music and be able to play it on any device is to buy a DRM-free CD and rip it to your computer in the format of your choosing (though the RIAA wishes everyone to believe that is illegal).

    Salon recently had an article about how you can’t say anything bad about Apple lest the fanboys jump down your throat, even if you give an amazing review of something, don’t point out the negatives.  It’s a good read.  http://machinist.salon.com/feature/2008/03/18/true_enough_excerpt_2/index.html

  2. Well, I agree that music is different than video games, but the point is more that iTunes is a service that comes with the iPod, nothing more.

    For what it’s worth, most of the (digital) music I’ve purchased recently has been through Amazon’s MP3 service, which just stresses the point of the iPod not being tied to the iTunes music store (which is a something that many tech journalists try to gloss over).

    As far as iTunes DRM, that is entirely the fault of the record labels.  The fact that Apple is still selling DRM’d music on iTunes is due to the record labels trying to stick it to Apple and not letting them sell the music DRM-free, while granting different terms to Amazon.  I agree, however that there should be no price distinction between premium “iTunes Plus” non-DRM’d tracks and “regular” DRM laden tracks.

    But, I digress.  The real point I’m trying to make is that when people buy through iTunes, they’re buying content specifically for their iPods (or AppleTVs).  That in itself makes the whole argument that Apple is doing something “bad” by tying the two together irrelevant.  It makes the DRM irrelevant.  There are certainly enough choices in purchasing media that if someone wants device-independent music they can get it.  People are not tied to the iTunes music store just because they own iPods.

    That’s why I highlight the author’s comparison to those other services.  When I buy games from the Virtual Console, I’m buying that content specifically for my Wii, just like when I buy from the iTunes store, I’m buying specifically for my iPod.  Again, iTunes is a service that comes with the iPod, and that’s the point that tech journalists just don’t seem to get.

  3. I can understand that, but Virtual Console is only available on the Wii.  The Sony and Xbox stuff is only available on those consoles.  iTunes is available on any PC or Mac as a free download by anyone who wishes.  You need not have an iPod to use it.  That’s my beef with the argument and with iTunes.  If iTunes was meant to be only for the iPod, it should only be available with the iPod (or at least the music store).  The general public should not be able to download it and access the music store without owning an iPod (or AppleTV).  I know that people are not tied to iTunes because they own an iPod, but they are tied to the iPod if they use iTunes, which is not advertised or meant to be a service only for the iPod.  There are plenty of other DRM schemes available that work on multiple players (Playsforsure for example).

    As for the argument that the record companies are still trying to “stick it” to Apple, I disagree.  Apple is the largest “retailer” of digital music.  They’d be stupid to try to stick it to Apple while giving Amazon a free ride.

  4. I think I can sum the whole thing up like this:

    People don’t buy iPods so they can play stuff from iTunes, they buy stuff from iTunes to play on their iPods (and AppleTV).

    I don’t think the fact that iTunes isn’t only available for the iPod changes the argument.  Because I can play the content on my computer (and pump music out to my home stereo) only highlights the ridiculousness of it all (like I said, iTunes is more open than those other services).

    As far as the labels sticking it to Apple, it’s absolutely true, and for the exact reason you mention:  Apple is the largest retailer of digital music, but the labels don’t want them to be.  They are trying desperately to take that away from Apple.  (Is that stupid of them?  Of course it is.)

    The problem lies with the labels wanting to charge more for popular artists, the way they do with CDs, and Apple not letting them.  You could argue whether or not Apple should change their stance on that point (maybe they should), but it doesn’t change the fact that the continuation of DRM in iTunes is entirely the fault of the labels, and not Apple.  Apple would offer their entire catalog DRM free if their contracts with the labels would let them.  So far only a handful (mostly independent) of labels have changed their terms.  Until the rest of the labels change their contracts, Apple’s hands are tied.

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