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Is Apple tying all media to its proprietary iPhone platform?

Daniel Eran Dilger

Tomorrow’s crisis today: Apple’s critics haven’t yet realized that the iPhone App Store has fueled millions in software development efforts to produce content exclusively tied to the company’s proprietary Cocoa Touch mobile platform. Is this a credible threat, and what is Apple’s real motive behind its iTunes rich media content strategy?
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The DRMers.

Imagine you operate a website that caters to mainstream public opinion in the field of technology. Say your audience is roughly 80% saturated in Windows, with a large population of avid Windows Enthusiasts who desperately need daily affirmation that there are no credible alternatives to Microsoft’s products. How do you portray the success Apple is enjoying with iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone, the App Store, the Mac platform, and so on, without offending these Truther-style mobs of angry people who long to live in the past under the Microsoft administration?

That’s right: cynically. Everything Apple does must be wrapped in false motives and exposed as a series of “You Lie!” and bumper sticker sloganism. The best way to do this is to suggest that Apple is Microsoft, and that all of the illegal conduct Microsoft got busted for over the past couple decades is being replicated by Apple, even though Apple doesn’t have a PC-wide monopoly in any of those areas that prevents competitors from offering alternative products.

To that effect, the head pundits of Windows Enthusiasm once attempted to portray iTunes as an evil plot to sew up the music business using Apple’s FairPlay DRM, just as Microsoft was trying to do with its own Windows Media DRM. When Microsoft did it, it was great, but when Apple was accused of doing the same thing, this was, in the words of Paul Thurrott, a case of “Apple should be stopped before the abuses get too great and harm too many consumers.” Oh the humanity!

The iTunes Monopoly/Failure Myth

DRM II: Who Knew?

With Apple now only selling DRM-free music, how can one mount a self-righteous crusade that vilifies Apple as being ‘nearly as bad’ as the criminally-convicted corporation they celebrate? Perhaps by accusing Apple of selling iPhone software that only works on the iPhone. I haven’t yet heard Windows Enthusiasts complaining that iPhone apps are proprietary, but give them some time and they might figure it out.

After all, if you were afraid that Apple’s use of DRM to sell the labels’ music as iTunes downloads was risking the world’s supply of non-DRM music (that is, CDs), you must be terrified that Apple is now selling, at a much faster rate, a tens of thousands of apps not just proprietary to the iPhone but also protected by DRM. It almost seems to be a great secret that Apple’s iPhone apps are protected by FairPlay, as if acknowledging this would be an admission that DRM can serve a purpose in the interests of consumers, such as keeping software prices low.

So far, the Windows Enthusiasts are busy voicing faith in the second coming of the Zune and the return of Windows Mobile with Pink, Microsoft’s still as yet unannounced own Windows Phone based on WiMo 7, and perhaps the first unfinished product Microsoft hasn’t attempted to leverage as vaporware to wipe out its competition, given that it’s now discovered that its vaporware bluffing powers are no match for Apple’s actual ability to deliver.

Why Can’t Microsoft Develop Software for Zune HD?
Why Microsoft Will Slaughter Its Windows Mobile and PC Partners

With iPhone apps, who needs iTunes LP?

To the most cynical critics of Apple, iPhone apps created by artists to promote their albums (and make some additional revenues on the side) have the potential to replace standard “play anywhere” music and movie downloads with a new form of interactive entertainment tied explicitly to Apple’s mobile platform. I’m surprised that the usual suspects haven’t generated more outrage about this.

After all, the labels and studios are already working closely with Apple and a variety of musicians have released iPhone apps that play their music and present other content that is exclusively available on the iPhone. Somewhat ironically however, Apple’s monstrous iTunes empire of proprietary, DRM iPhone apps is exactly what developers asked for, and has received the thronging support of a global public giddy to pay for the opportunity to participate. In contrast, when Apple unveiled its initial open, unrestricted web-standards APIs for the iPhone, developers castigated the company and few paid any attention to the web apps that became available.

Even more remarkable, Apple is building upon the wild success of its iPhone App Store, not by working to convert albums and movies into binaries that only work its own Cocoa platforms, but instead by introducing a new web standards-based format for delivering bonus content offered with standard AAC audio albums and H.264 movies. How does this make any sense in Apple’s overall strategy?

My answer is in the next article. What do you think?

19 comments

1 warlock7 { 09.12.09 at 8:05 pm }

But there’s good reason not to mention this. MS has already working hard, but that I mean throwing money at it, to accomplish a similar thing in the video game console market. They want to make it appear that their failed purchase into the game industry is really something other than their attempts to tie users to their very proprietary living room delivery mechanism.

2 Tom Reestman { 09.12.09 at 8:36 pm }

“How do you portray the success Apple is enjoying with iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone, the App Store, the Mac platform, and so on, without offending these Truther-style mobs of angry people who long to live in the past under the Microsoft administration?”

Sadly, they do whatever they need to to placate the 80% because, frankly, they’d rather have the eyeballs than stick to their guns.

You’re correct that cynicism is one way they do it, but it’s also via feigned outrage or simple whining. A lot of that coming from developers who’ve only had the opportunity of a lifetime laid at their feet.

Lately I’ve seen David Pogue going out of his way to avoid getting yelled at by Lyons, Arrington, or Clalacanis, as if accusations of being a “fanboi” from those three kooks isn’t actually a Good Thing.

You think it’s bad now? There’s gonna be a boatload of drooling by Apple folks over Windows 7 in a concerted effort to appear “unbiased”.

3 thefaint { 09.13.09 at 12:27 am }

” by introducing a new web standards-based format for delivering bonus content offered with standard AAC audio albums and H.264 movies. How does this make any sense in Apple’s overall strategy?”

I think they want to set the barriers of entry really low so everyone can participate, so independent producers and big studios are on a level playing field.

But more importantly, it will be easier to create content for iTunes than, say, creating anything for blu ray, with this, Apple is saying: create for iTunes, kiss blu ray licencing goodbye.

4 gus2000 { 09.13.09 at 1:02 am }

Using open-standard formats mean that the content owners can create materials with widely available tools and a broad choice of artists/programmers. Funny how producers balk at sinking $5k into some proprietary development kit and then paying ransom-level wages to the 3 people on earth that know how to use is. Plus, the FairPlay DRM gives them control over the content in ways not possible by most other distribution methods.

“I haven’t yet heard Windows Enthusiasts complaining that iPhone apps are proprietary, but give them some time and they might figure it out.”

You got me there…I LOLd.

5 deardeveloper { 09.13.09 at 1:06 am }

“You Lie!” is now permanently etched into my memory every time I hear the president or Leo Laporte speak. It’s a subconscious compulsive reaction.

On the president, he might do well to stop being on TV sooooo much.

On Laporte, I was a weekly TWIT & MacBreak listener, but I couldn’t stomach the blatant, undeserved Apple nit-picking. Not that I think Apple is mistake-free, but Laporte and his gang try so hard not to be represented as fan-boys that “making it even” turns into a sport for them. I stopped listening to TWIT months ago, and just recently gave up MacBreak. They’re a total joke.

Daniel Erin should do a piece on them with all the garbage they spew out.

6 Hypothesard { 09.13.09 at 2:22 am }

“Imagine you operate a website that caters to mainstream pubic opinion in the field of technology.”

^_^ “a *pubic* opinion”, aaah the pudibond America

Ahh the auto-correction :P

7 Hypothesard { 09.13.09 at 2:41 am }

@gus2000
gus2000 { 09.13.09 at 1:02 am }
“Using open-standard formats mean that the content owners can create materials with widely available tools and a broad choice of *artists/programmers*. [...]
Plus, the FairPlay DRM gives them control over the content in ways not possible by most other distribution methods.”
For what people[1] have discovered LP albums are DRM Free (even the videos)
The only “proprietary” thing about It is That this zipped-renamed-package can only be red as is in iTunes (and of course purchase via iTunes)
Other than That I don’t see too much time until some guys blog about how to modify those mini web sites to play in a WebKit based browser (clicking on songs in the web page call specifically iTunes and that can be changed by tweaking the html/css/javascripts files)
[1]http://jayrobinson.org/2009/09/11/some-notes-on-itunes-lp/

Daniel, keep those articles comming, they are the breathable air on the internet.

8 Berend Schotanus { 09.13.09 at 4:29 am }

What do you think?

I think there is a behind the scenes effort (call it conspiracy but when you consult W3C documentation it is probably quite open), including at least Apple, Google and Philips, attempting to open the consumer entertainment (living room) market for the internet.
Currently the consumer entertainment market is quite closed and well divided between cable companies and music labels, to the big frustration of newcomers who see huge potential for innovation.
Up until now internet in the living room has not been a great success, probably for many reasons but one of them is that the internet user interface has been designed for a desktop computer and simply doesn’t work well when you’re sitting on a couch with a remote control watching a TV screen.
Both Apple and Google have done a significant effort to enter this market for a long time. Apple packed remote controls with all its computers and brought Apple TV. Google bought and supported YouTube. Apple did a considerable effort in developing a user interface that does work in the living room and they shipped it as Front Row and Apple TV. The experience is great but it wasn’t enough to make a dent in universe. Apple on its own does not have enough market power.
So here comes the open web standards. Combine the sleek Apple user interface with the open standards as maintained by W3C and promoted by Google. What you get is CE-HTML. Which is basically identical to the HTML/CSS/JavaScript/H.264 standard that Apple promotes for Mac and iPhone. The only difference is it gets an extension for an optimized user experience in the living room.
The iPhone didn’t come alone, it came in the same wave as Android. Google knew iPhone was coming, Apple knew Android was coming. They both knew competition based upon open standards was in their own self interest.
To me CE-HTML fits in the same pattern. It requires more parties and open standards to really change a market.
So now Apple is doing some relatively small scale experimenting with CE-HTML in its home market USA with iTunes LP while Philips is doing the same in its home market Holland/Germany with Net TV and Google is always on the background ready to provide YouTube, whether it is for Apple TV or Net TV.
The future is that you can plug in your TV set directly into the Internet and stream interactive content from any source while bypassing the traditional cable companies and music labels.

9 Jon T { 09.13.09 at 5:40 am }

All this is so true, but glad someone else has found the need to push Leo Laporte into the long grass. My view is that he’s got a very narrow bandwidth, and with little or no taste too. All that TWIP stuff is history for me.

10 imtherealmike { 09.13.09 at 5:43 am }

For me apple need to move apple TV to the iphone platform. This would allow them to make great in roads in the living room giving consumers a rich media experience at home, and like with the ipod touch take on the games consoles by stealth.

By tying all the apps to cocoa they get apps tied to the entire apple ecosystem. But interestingly Apple aren’t doing this by force as others have in the past. They are just making it the route of least resistance, therefor allowing developers the maximum return on investment. If as a developer you can write an app which has a 50 m and growing portable market…then with the click of a button you get to the living room though apple TV take 3, then on the mac once they become more touch aware. This shows the power of a single OS strategy.

A little off topic but…
I remember Ninteno showing off a demo game many years ago. ( I think it was the gameboy advanced and the N64) You could use the GBA as a controller for the N64 but on this game when you fell off the screen on the N64 you appeared on the screen of the GBA. Having the ability to write games that are both on your ATV and Ipod/phone could be very cool.

11 Per { 09.13.09 at 6:10 am }

@deardeveloper

I agree totally. Leo Laporte seems to be spending most of his energy proving to the Windows Enthusiasts that he’s not an Apple fanboy. After his endless tirade against Snow Leopard I felt like canceling my subscription. What also bothers me is that on FLOSS weekly, Windows Weekly (with Thurrot himself), TWIT, MacBreak Weekly, he seems to have different opinions depending on who’s listening.

12 Dorotea { 09.13.09 at 10:05 am }

Damn. The political TROLLS are back.

13 deardeveloper { 09.13.09 at 10:52 am }

@Dorotea

A TROLL? Looking back through the comments, I see that it must have been my comments that caused you to want to call me that name. Wow. I wish that we could meet in person over lunch or something, because I’m really a nice guy with a sweet wife and precious little daughters that I love very much.

But truly, I don’t bare any hard feeling toward you. It’s that darn inter-webs that makes it easy to say such things.

@Daniel Erin
You choose to discuss both technology and/or politics in your blogs. I’ve come to agree that it’s appropriate because it’s your blog and you can do what you want with it. You also have chosen to open up comments for all and you don’t have a rule limiting the topic. BTW, I applaud you for being a liberal who doesn’t censor opposition. ;-) But, do you find it inappropriate to comment on the small political sections of your blog?

14 Dorotea { 09.13.09 at 1:12 pm }

@DearDeveloper. I hate politics here… even that from Daniel… but its his house – can’t criticize the host.

The first line of your initial post was political – not needed to discuss the blog.

Didn’t like the former white house resident but didn’t call him a liar here either. So would appreciate that accusations of liar be applied to tech pundits and leave politics out — especially when the blog was not political.

15 tinytim09 { 09.13.09 at 1:59 pm }

“I haven’t yet heard Windows Enthusiasts complaining that iPhone apps are proprietary, but give them some time and they might figure it out.”

Because nobody cares. Us windows enthusiats already have a full lists of cos about the iPhone. Thank you very much :)

16 cy_starkman { 09.13.09 at 11:48 pm }

@Tinytim09

Perhaps, as you have so eloquently demonstrated it is just a simple failure to grasp language and writing that is holding back the complaints from the Windows Enthusiasts. ; p

17 New iTunes LP and Extras built using TuneKit Framework, aimed at Apple TV — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 09.14.09 at 1:52 am }

[...] Is Apple tying all media to its proprietary iPhone platform? [...]

18 Is Apple Tying All Media to its Proprietary IPhone Platform [Voices] | UpOff.com { 09.16.09 at 3:09 am }

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19 Tardis { 09.18.09 at 11:20 am }

Daniel,

Congratulations! You are now linked to by the Fake Steve Jobs! The Other Dan also refers to you as “our good friend”.

http://www.fakesteve.net/2009/09/borg-lapdog-says-you-should-choose.html

Whatever did you do to deserve this?

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