Out of sync: iTunes integration was a selling point early on. But at what point is Apple’s own innovation upstaged by their desire to control distribution through the iTunes channel? .

Last week, Apple rejected a podcast management app because, to paraphrase Apple’s own policy, they want iTunes handling all podcasts for you and not any third-party apps. (Officially, “Since Podcaster assists in the distribution of podcasts, it duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes.”)

Over the past few days, that’s generated plenty of chatter on the blogosphere, mostly centering around technical and philosophical discussions of the way Apple manages its developer relations and application approval.

But let’s cut right to the chase. This time, it’s not about Apple’s App Store or approval process. That’s Apple’s model, and it’s their choice to continue to defend its merits against its competitors. (That’s not to say it hasn’t introduced some limitations; see Gizmodo for a good overview of that.) This is really about iTunes. A discussion of the way Apple is using the dominance of iTunes to control how music and media is consumed is long overdue.

I can think of no better time to have just that conversation. In one week, Apple has sent a strong message. They shipped iTunes 8, which delivered mediocre knock-offs of functionality in other tools, all intended to keep you inside Apple’s ecosystem and away from what should be an increasingly-vibrant set of alternatives. They delivered another iPod touch/iPhone firmware update that still doesn’t deliver basic connectivity to your computer — and, as a result, was hacked within hours by users wanting that functionality. And they then blocked a third-party app that delivered something they hadn’t, in order to protect their own more limited solution — the opposite of what building a developer platform is supposed to be about.

What makes this all so frustrating is they still make the best mobile music and video player in the world. So why are they clamping that player into a chastity belt?

It’s About Distribution

Ever since the launch of Napster and file sharing services, digital distribution has been at the forefront of conversations about digital media — and rightfully so. Apple did provide the first successful business model that allowed digital distribution to make money for producers, and for that they should be congratulated. But part of the dream of digital distribution was decentralization — a level playing field, without major labels and retail outlets tilted to big hits while ignoring niche interests and independent artists. iTunes, meanwhile, rose to be the single dominant player and store, coupled with the dominant mobile hardware. That’s a situation that was always ripe for abuse.

It’s interesting to re-read Steve Jobs’ “Thoughts on Music” essay from February 2007. At the time, many held it up as a bold statement by Apple advocating an end to DRM. Now, it’s tough to read it that way. Most of the “essay” is spent defending Apple for its integration of iPod and iTunes, and saying Apple wasn’t really creating “lock-in” to its store. Here’s my favorite part:

“Some have argued that once a consumer purchases a body of music from one of the proprietary music stores, they are forever locked into only using music players from that one company… It’s hard to believe that just 3% of the music on the average iPod is enough to lock users into buying only iPods in the future. And since 97% of the music on the average iPod was not purchased from the iTunes store, iPod users are clearly not locked into the iTunes store to acquire their music.”

You’ll notice Jobs never answered the original question, which was interoperability. He just changed the subject — effectively, he argued, interoperability beyond the MP3 format wasn’t necessary, and specifically interoperability of DRM wasn’t necessary. He also didn’t cover the question of interoperability of video formats. That number is likely to be far higher than 3%, even assuming as Jobs does that customers use all their storage capacity.

Jobs did convince major labels to drop DRM — but not to please him. On the contrary, the aggressive policy of releasing DRM-free music by labels seems to be an admission that the labels themselves were (rightfully) concerned about the business implications of Apple becoming their only vendor. They had to remove DRM in order to make their music compatible with iTunes and iPod.

More telling is what Apple chose to do next.

The lack of access to the device’s music database means that, in order to get cool features like tracking which songs you’re listening to on Last.fm, you have to jailbreak the device. Apple doesn’t want to let go of their control of the player, so they lock down the database on the device and the way in which it’s synced to your computer.

“The labels made us do it” argument about FairPlay and DRM doesn’t make any sense, because the same technology has resurfaced in the App Store. You’ll find that apps downloaded via iTunes — remarkably, even free apps — require authorization from an iTunes account, just like DRM-encoded music once had. That’s to say nothing of the company’s apparent plans to add DRM to your clothes.

Those protections may well protect application developers from piracy, so to Apple’s credit, FairPlay could help protect developers. (That doesn’t explain why free apps are included, of course, nor does it address the lack of demo downloads, but I’ll give credit where it’s due.)

What’s more troubling is the other sets of restrictions Apple has placed on iTunes and iPod/iPhone media consumption and playback. Let’s call it the iTunes Lock-Down.

What iTunes and iPod-iPhone Do Right

Before looking at the chains Apple has imposed, it’s important to note that they’ve done some really important things for digital creators. And you can only understand the iPod touch and iPhone at their worst if you look at them at their best:

  • iTunes is a vital distribution outlet: I have nothing against the iTunes store. It works well, it’s shown healthy growth, and its integration clearly provides a set of opportunities for getting your content out there.
  • iPod/iPhone is a damned good media player: People don’t buy these things because they’re trend-following sheep. The success of Apple’s devices really is because they’re well designed — not only on their shiny outsides, but how well they navigate and play media, which is the point.
  • Apps are awesome: Need a reason to buy the iPod touch over, say, a Microsoft Zune or Samsung or SanDisk or other media player? Fire up an app like Last.fm, which beautifully streams song recommendations. Note, of course, this is because they go outside what Apple themselves provide. That’s the whole point.

Computer Says No: iTunes Lock-Out

Alternative media players are having a tough time keeping up with Apple. Media Monkey was able to sync with 1.x firmware, but not 2.x firmware. That means Apple is able to obliterate choice when it comes to managing software, limit your options for managing your media library, and control the way music and media is distributed and consumed.

Let’s forget the philosophy or the politics here for a second. Those are interesting discussions, but most people buy an iPod or iPhone to use the thing. And we can avoid deeper, more abstract issues by looking solely at what the device does.

In this case, it’s about what you can’t do — not for technical reasons, but because Apple has decided to block certain functionality. An iPod touch, in particular, is basically a tiny computer, a flash drive, a screen, and a headphone jack. It’s a USB flash drive — something that, since the very creation of USB, normally allowed connecting to a computer. Then it’s got an Internet Wi-Fi connection, which under normal circumstances should let you connect to the Internet and do things. iTunes is a software player that manages media files on your hard drive. The files you’re playing, from audio to video to RSS-delivered audio and video (podcasts) should be playable anywhere.

Here’s where stuff starts to go wrong.

  • You can’t manage your iPod or iPhone using anything other than iTunes. This is a big deal, and I think it’s clear why when you try to use iTunes 8. Other players have continued to grow and develop while iTunes has not. Look at the open-source, Firefox-based, tri-platform Songbird, which integrates web browsing for music and other unique features. Look at Media Monkey, foobar2000, and Winamp on Windows. Look at Rhythmbox, Amorak, and Banshee on Linux. Any of these players ought to be able to use the iPod/iPhone as a normal storage device; up until firmware 2.x, many could. But the 2.x firmware devices are the most locked-down Apple has ever made. That means you’ve got a drive plugged into your computer that you can’t actually use without approved software.
  • You can’t manage files. Happily, some third-party apps have stepped in here, with over-the-air tools for file sync, transfer, viewing, and navigation. On the other hand, it’s unclear why Apple doesn’t use existing built-in mechanisms for connecting drives via USB tethering, or why you have to get an app to do this in the first place. And most importantly, these tools generally won’t work with music files (though I have been researching options for that and will report back — even if it isn’t Apple-sanctioned).
  • You can’t install apps outside iTunes. Enough has been said about this. But I’ll make one comparison: the only major equivalent here is the restrictions on running software on game consoles. Even on my Blackberry, I can choose what to install. I’ve never created a freak black hole by doing so.
  • Real Genius: The reliance on iTunes ignores the innovation happening on the Web. Apple’s Genius Playlist feature is an embarrassment. Smart recommendation engines have been around for years. They’re a joy to use, and they hook into real communities. The Genius Playlist suggests music extremely poorly, and cynically tries to make you buy more music from iTunes. Web alternatives, ironically, are probably better at that, too, because their recommendations actually work. There’s basic Last.fm compatibility for iTunes, but other computer players have open plug-in architectures iTunes lacks. iTunes, by contrast, seems like an app built before Web communities were popular, perhaps because it was. And to get real Last.fm scrobbling on my iPod touch, I had to jailbreak the iPod. (Highly recommended, by the way, but that only proves my point.)
  • The only choice for podcast management is iTunes. This brings us full circle. Now, Apple has done amazing work on their software and hardware. I don’t expect them to do everything I want. But that’s why I love development platforms. Apple did a brilliant job on Mac OS. Sure, installing an app might cause a crash. The UI might not be up to par. But that should be my choice. And by having that choice, third party developers can take things Apple missed and do a better job.

About Those Podcasts…

Are we having fun yet? Apple got over-the-air purchasing of apps and tunes working just fine. But when it came to podcasts — conveniently, the free distribution method, the one that is most important to independent creators — they dropped the ball. That means you’ll need to use their player and their cable to make the connection, even though you’ve got a player equipped with Wi-Fi and (on iPhone) mobile data.

The podcast issue is especially important, because it impacts distribution, and as a result those who create and consume content (read: us). When done well, when the format is open and flexible, creators and consumers win. If it’s done poorly, we lose.

The iPod touch and iPhone ought to be causing a revolution in podcasting, particularly the consumption of videos. I think some of this potential is stunted by being forced to go through iTunes. Think about it. You’ve got a beautiful device with a beautiful screen that’s completely portable and connects via Wi-Fi and (for the iPhone) mobile networks. Yet to put a podcast on it, you have to:

1. Load iTunes.
2. Get your Apple-proprietary cable.
3. Connect your device by cable to a computer running a copy of iTunes configured for that device.
4. Configure the podcasts you want to hear.
5. Download the podcasts on your computer.
6. Sync — an often painfully-slow process that often involves connecting to the App Store and molasses-like backups.
7. After you’re done listening again, sync again to refresh — and deal with iTunes’ poorly-conceived settings for storing and retaining files.

The whole point of podcast distribution is that it’s done online. It’s bad enough that Apple would miss the boat on this; it’s worse that they’d keep others from doing better.

And Podcaster is just one example. What other Web innovation will be stymied by Apple having a closed platform? Fortunately, I’m not waiting around to find out — for the time being, I’m taking advantage of the superior work being done on hacked and jailbroken platforms. I’ll be talking about how you can do the same on CDM in the coming weeks, as well as watching to see if competitors can get their act together and offer a strong alternative.

Why This Matters

As content creators and publishers, we should be especially concerned. We’re living in an age that promises to be unparalleled in exploring new ways for people to discover and consume the things we make. We need to be able to get that content to people easily, so whether or not something like a podcast works the way it should is important. We also need to have access to tools as they evolve, which means openness matters, too. I’ve discovered all kinds of artists through Last.fm and other new services. If Apple alone had access to my music library for tagging, management, listening, and discovery, that experience would be far less interesting.

And I expect the dimensions of this need will only grow in time. The alternative is stagnation. We’ve already seen what happens when one vendor dominates a business: think Microsoft Office in the 1990s. It’s no accident that people have started calling iTunes the “Outlook” of media. iTunes 8 isn’t a bad release, necessarily, and I’m sure a lot of effort when into it. But when you have a major release that Apple flew press cross-country to demonstrate, you’d expect new features, not poor copies (Genius Sidebar, Album Cover view) of features already in competitive products for years. Most of the slicker changes in iTunes (Cover Flow, the new visualizer) have been acquisitions. But then, Apple shouldn’t have to give us everything — that’s why software choice is so important. I think some people would be more likely to buy a new iPod touch if they knew it wouldn’t refuse to talk to their copy of Winamp.

What Can Be Done?

Expect a lot of the ongoing action to be on the hacked / “jailbroken” version of the device — free of the restrictions of the official SDK, and powered by open source technologies from libraries and development toolchain to Debian package distribution borrowed from Linux.

I do really care about Apple’s devices and the work they’ve done. Microsoft once had to backpedal when they went too far with their platform. I hope it wouldn’t take a legal crisis to get Apple to do the same. After all, Apple has already reversed position on development in general, from saying that applications destroy quality and threaten to bring down mobile networks, to saying web pages count as application development, to finally advocating development as a major selling point of the platform.

Apple could:

1. Ship their own over-the-air podcast management tool in a firmware update, and allow users to subscribe to podcasts from within Safari. After all, these are the technologies Apple championed and has traditionally implemented better than anyone else. There’s no reason Apple can’t again lead on podcasts. (The cynical part of me fears that they’re more interested in selling you entertainment from the iTunes store, but Apple, feel free to prove me wrong.)

2. Provide database access. What’s the point of apps for a media player if the apps can’t adequately complement the media player?

3. Stop blocking third parties just because they interface with the music playback parts of the device or compete with iTunes. These ought to be the best apps available for the platform, as they get to the heart of why people buy Apple mobile devices in the first place (particularly iPod). It’s clear that something like a podcast app isn’t a security or quality threat. And from a business perspective, keeping the media playback experience rich will reward Apple with still more loyal users.

3. Work with Adobe to deliver Flash support. The other major content distribution stream is the Web, and Flash remains important. Now that Flash supports MP4, there’s no reason we shouldn’t see services like Vimeo on the device and not just YouTube.

4. Give us normal drive access. This could let us use innovative new media players and make our iDevices more useful by storing our files on them, out of the box.

Of course, I’m not optimistic about any of these things. So, assuming Apple continues down this path, that leaves the solution to other groups. Developers are doing what they always do: they’re building solutions. Some are likely to turn to the open-source, hacked development chain. Others will look to competitive devices. Desktop computer player makers I hope will work really hard to hack Apple’s devices so they can sync with them. But we’re most dependent on competitors learning from what Apple does well (rich capabilities, well-designed UIs and hardware) while choosing different paths than Apple on lock-in (open development and interoperability instead of the closed Apple path).

Unfortunately, Apple’s best bet for a rival recently, Microsoft, chose to replicate the closed iTunes model with their Zune. Given that even big Zune advocates were quickly blogging about how to get around Microsoft’s restrictions on device access, my guess is that that helped contribute to the Zune’s unpopularity.

Other alternatives lie ahead, though, particularly with Linux and Google Android on the horizon.

What we can do as creators and consumers, though, is easier. For starters, we can stop taking no for an answer. Via Gizmodo, The Joy of Tech comic fought back brilliantly with humor. Bloggers have been vigorously calling Apple on their error on Podcaster. The underground iPhone development crews have done an incredible job of keeping up with hacks, and you can support their efforts by helping the develop and test or by contributing donations. We need advocates for useful tools (OGG codecs and Last.fm scrobbling) and not just pirating Nintendo game ROMs. Obviously, the latter makes a poor argument for the platform.

Certainly, I will continue to discuss alternatives to iTunes for listening to, managing, sharing, and discovering music. Stay tuned.

Further Reading

Apple’s Capricious Rules for iPhone Apps [New York Times]

Things That Podcaster’s Rejection From the App Store Is Not About [Daring Fireball]

And for a laugh, see Gizmodo on Joy Of Tech’s How Apple Picks Which Apps Make It to the App Store

  • robman84

    This is why there are zero songs and videos on my lovely iPod Touch. I have a much better PMP for that (creative Zen). My music is in the format I want it in, as are my videos. My iPod touch is mostly competing for functionality with my WM6 phone. The latter has lost out for web browsing, email, contacts and calendars. It still has the edge for music composition courtesy of the now ancient Griff. Come on guys, make Griff for the iPhone/iPod!

    I really don't like iTunes. Never have. The only things it does for me are syncing calendars and contacts, and the APP store. I just don't want to be tied into Apple's formats for my media. Besides, I'm still one of the only people I know who has never bought (or illegally downloaded) any music from a web shop (except helping my wife to get 3 songs on her phone and of course buying "In Rainbows" from Radiohead). I love the flexibility and quality I get from CDs that I rip exactly how I want to.

    Apple cannot let go of their control. Their revenue protection relies on it. And if people got overly hooked on excellent 3rd party alternatives on their iPod for stuff like music, videos and podcasts, they could easiliy migrate to other hardware platforms that supported that software (e.g. Android, WM7)

  • james

    "..from saying that applications destroy quality and threaten to bring down mobile networks, to saying web pages count as application development, to finally advocating development as a major selling point of the platform"

    I love that summary, makes Apple sound like the Chinese government. What they say, at that moment, is the truth, at that moment.

  • spinner

    Very valid points and I don't disagree. At the same time this is Apples device and they're not, if they ever were, a champion of the individual – they're about making dollars. Locking a consumer into a product has already been proven by Mr.Gates to be a very lucrative business plan.

    It's all as you say ebb and flows. The more they try and restrict their devices the harder folk will work on alternatives. Apple will eventually fall down and some other company will take their place. They will however make a bunch of cash before that.

    I'm pretty certain I'll jailbreak mine halfway through my contract or the second someones comes up with cut&paste and flash support.

    Also to be fair I believe one of the arguments for restricting third-party apps is because they are the ones who usually messses up the OS.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @spinner: True, although at some point "it's their device" runs up against regulation, not just in the US but potentially in the EU. Apple has faced that threat before, and now I can see that coming up against new objections as the argument shifts from DRM per se to the vendor-specific application/media platform. Now, don't get me wrong — I wouldn't hold my breath on regulation having any effect. But I would expect someone to object, and not just bloggers. ;)

    I come back to the issues of principle and practicality. On principle, I think it's hypocritical for anyone who found Microsoft's media player strategy in the 90s distasteful to turn around and say what Apple's doing is okay. Apple clearly is using their market dominance to shut out not only competitors but even basic choices about how you use their product. (In fact, Microsoft, by contrast, had a relatively open platform and licensing — for better or worse. I just can't imagine using Apple's relative closeness as the argument that makes this right, somehow.)

    On practicality, the good news is that, unlike Microsoft and Zune, Google has chosen to reverse Apple's equation instead of copy it. So that means developers can embrace other platforms when Apple provides limitations — or embrace the open-source, hacked toolchain — or both.

    And at the very least, as a content creator or developer I would be extremely wary of tying my fortunes to Apple. That doesn't mean you shouldn't develop for their SDK or release stuff through their store; on the contrary, I think your best bet is to make sure your approach covers multiple bases. But to rely entirely on this platform seems a mistake.

    A great deal of this is self-correcting. As a user, I'm going to keep advocating alternative players and do my best to avoid getting locked into iTunes. And developers running into a brick wall are already leaving. But again, I would be concerned about the amount of market dominance Apple has. The problem is, they've squeezed out any alternatives having critical mass. That means alternate hardware and software alike is teetering on the edge of being completely irrelevant. Then the rest of us are just left whining, but there's little we can do about it.

  • http://myspace.com/fallsastar foosnark

    What makes this all so frustrating is they still make the best mobile music and video player in the world.

    That's a matter of opinion. They make a good one, and they have better marketing than anyone else.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I could actually talk about why they I said that from a pure playback perspective, but … got a better one? I'd love to hear about it. Recording aside, I've had a hard time finding a player that can beat the touch, particularly post-jailbreak with all these apps (official and unofficial).

  • adamj

    Great article.

    "iTunes, meanwhile, rose to be the single dominant player and store, coupled with the dominant mobile hardware. That’s a situation that was always ripe for abuse."

    This makes me thinkg about Microsoft having the dominant OS and the dominant web browser. And aren't they still being sued (and losing and forking over tons of cash) for anti-competitive practices related to Internet Explorer?

    I suspect the same will eventually happen to Apple with iTunes, but it will take years and they'll have plenty of money to cover the legal expenses, so probably nothing will change.

    Spinner was dead on when he said "Locking a consumer into a product has already been proven by Mr.Gates to be a very lucrative business plan."

    Hopefully Android will shake things up. We'll see.

  • http://v8media.com Ian Page-Echols

    I agree with a lot of this. The potential for a device like this is huge, and so far it's been minimized by some of the restrictions.

    One thing I'll say about last.fm and all of the other services I've tried that are supposed to help suggest music that I will like. I can take about a week or two on each finding some new music, but mostly getting annoyed at how incorrect the suggestions are. If you are on last.fm, try punching in Ratatat. All I ever got was mopey music, nothing exciting, happy, rocky or otherwise similar in any way. I assume this is due to most of the Ratatat listeners usually not liking upbeat music? Either way, it's a good example of how off those services tend to be for me, if off of your main article topic.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Theoretically, Android should be the tip of a very big iceberg — one that, for all my criticism here, may actually benefit from Apple's stuff. Look for a convergence of commodity chips and other electronics powering the brains of these devices, more smart multi-touch screens, and lots of development work on mobile software. On the software side, that should be not only the OS itself (Linux) but Java VMs (as employed in Android), specialized software stacks and development pipelines (which is effectively what Android is), other delivery methods (JavaFX, Flash/Flex, and the like), browsers (WebKit as used in both Android *and* Safari on iPhone, but other competitors, too), possibly even mobile-ready drivers for audio and video. The success of Apple in this case has already laid some groundwork as far as design and (with WebKit) literal code.

    At the center of all of this, you wind up with smarter mobile devices that are more like computers, *plus* mobile platforms that are closely tied to browsers and connectivity.

    All of that should be generating the opposite of what we're seeing with Apple, which is oddly stuck in the past (game console-style, signed apps and development covered by NDA, and a business model tied to a closed app on the desktop computer).

    The problem is, none of the rest of this stuff can flourish if Apple has total dominance and sticks to this model. So we need competitors, and even small steps by Apple (loosening or even clarifying their NDA, for instance) could relieve some of the pressure.

  • spinner

    @Peter. I wouldn't sell my self so short. I'm pretty certain Apple among others are keeping a very close eye and ear to what bloggers like CDM are writing about. Court injunctions is what Apple pay lawyers for – bad web buzz is a lot harder to control.

    I think however what will put a bunzun burner under their butts and forcing them to open up is other manufacturers realizing that there is a business oppertunity here. Google is hopefully just the first one in a long line.

  • http://myspace.com/drvinay vinayk

    these issues are what is really stopping me from getting an iphone or an ipod touch just yet – what is the point of web access anywhere if no file transfer, and my one big beef with making the mac switch is that I can't find anything that replicates the simple functionality of winamp… i really loathe using itunes… (cog does some of it – but is still in early days, and songbird was a bit unstable for me)

    maybe the google android vs iphone battle will be a bit like a firefox vs internet explorer battle? My understanding is that google's platform wont be restricted to a particular device? More like windows mobile in that regard? Someone correct me if i'm wrong.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @vinayk:

    Note that file transfer is possible via third-party apps. WebDAV access, even. The problem is, you can't access the media library/database, which I assume would be a big reason you'd want file transfer. (And unlike even the Zune, Apple doesn't yet do wireless sync.)

    As far as Mac players, you might give Songbird another try. It's really benefiting from Mozilla getting its act together on the engine. I'm finding it to be much more stable. My only remaining gripes are things like its ongoing inability to recognize album artwork, but they're making more rapid progress than they once were. But, again, Songbird and others could be doing amazing things with sync except that Apple doesn't let you touch their device's database.

    Google Android will in fact work on multiple devices. You'll need a device capable of running the Android stack effectively, so I expect only future devices will support it, but yes, in that way very much like Windows Mobile. And as with Windows Mobile, you'll be able to develop on familiar tools without needing any permission from anyone — and to deploy, as I understand it, without signing / approval. What I don't know yet is how Google's Android stack and the underlying Linux bits will interact, how you'd run normal Linux apps or even if you can.

  • piezo

    Let's not forget that Android's business model is to establish an advertising platform. They were smart enough to have no ads in the start phase, but advertising is still what Android is all about.

    Personally, I prefer to pay the developer directly for selected apps through the app store over having free apps but also annoying ads on my phone.

    And you can't run normal or any other Linux apps, Android apps are Java-only. The Java-APIs provide convenient high-level functions for fast development but lack the low-level access that's required by many of the more interesting apps. I'm not quite sure, but it looks like there isn't even a function for playing dynamically generated audio – which is the basis for any synthesizer-, sequencer or other realtime audio program. (according to the documentation there is a buffered player for files and streams from the net but none for playing a local byte array)

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @piezo: I'm not sure that's entirely fair as a characterization. Google wants to pull people to their API. There's no guarantee apps on Android will have ads on them — and likewise, we're already seeing a growing number of ad-supported apps on the iPhone platform.

    But yes, I really don't know

    a) whether there will be Linux apps on the Android devices (I realize they're not supported by Android per se, but I just don't know how the devices themselves will evolve)

    b) whether this has anything to do with music/media management apps

    – the second being key.

    Android, nope, not seeing synthesis — also not encouraging, especially given the Objective-C and Core Audio framework and such on iPhone. And Java's next big push, JavaFX, shows no sign of this, either (though I'm personally pushing for them to add it).

    But this still leaves Linux and Windows Mobile themselves as mobile platforms. Windows Mobile is basically the same as Win32 development, and Microsoft didn't feel they needed an ad model to open up app development on the mobile platform.

    As I said, there isn't a direct alternative to Apple at the moment that does what this platform does. But whether that remains the case in future seems up in the air to me.

  • piezo

    Microsoft sells Windows Mobile licenses, they don't need another business model on top of that.

    Android is free, so the question is how Google is going to profit from it.

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  • poopoo

    Great article. The apple itunes/ipod/itunes store thing has creeped me out for a long time. They are rapidly approaching a monopoly over the purchase and playback of music.

  • Downpressor

    <cite>But part of the dream of digital distribution was decentralization — a level playing field, without major labels and retail outlets tilted to big hits while ignoring niche interests and independent artists.</cite>

    And for anyone who bought that line, can I interest you in some Florida beach front investment properties? As far as the main topic of the post goes, I've got to admit I'm confounded by this line of thinking. Apple always was and probably always will be controlling of their product lines, at least since the dawn of the Mac era. The software goes with the hardware and thats how it is.

    The comparisons to MS's business methods are also a bit in hyperbole land since the anti trust issues had alot more to do with bundling and tie-ing deals. No one is being stopped from using their consumer devices in unapproved ways, but aside from a charitable spirit of open-ness, Apple has no reason at all to pander to everyone's desires.

  • mackie

    iPod/iPhone is not, IMHO, the 'best mobile music and video player in the world'. It's just the synonim of music player for average consumer.

    I must say that we're lucky that Apple is not Microsoft, MS is bad, but just imagine how bad Apple would be if it would have MS position? With all that stuff going on I've started to think that they're trying to dominate the world of digital media software/hardware in a bad way while they've lost their customers from sight.

    All the things iPod/iPhone doesn't do this device can do. Though it's not a media player in the first place it's worth checking out. I'm very happy with it :)

  • KimH

    "They shipped iTunes 8, which delivered mediocre knock-offs of functionality in other tools…"

    "Mediocre"? Nonsense. In my experience, the iTunes 8 "Genius" feature is anything but mediocre. I'm a working DJ, and I have 20,000 tracks in iTunes, and Genius has been brilliant. Extremely useful for digging out music in my library that I either forgot about or perhaps never listened to in the first place.

    "…all intended to keep you inside Apple’s ecosystem and away from what should be an increasingly-vibrant set of alternatives."

    Huh? Recommending music from the iTunes Store is just to trap me in Apple's ecosystem? Please. It's the fastest path to buying music — sometimes I use it, sometimes not. I tend to avoid DRM whenever possible. Often I go to Amazon instead. Do you really believe that Apple, as a business, needs to point its customers towards "vibrant alternatives"? Do you understand what it means to be in business?

    "They delivered another iPod touch/iPhone firmware update that still doesn’t deliver basic connectivity to your computer — and, as a result, was hacked within hours by users wanting that functionality."

    "Basic connectivity"? You need to define your terms more carefully.

    "And they then blocked a third-party app that delivered something they hadn’t, in order to protect their own more limited solution — the opposite of what building a developer platform is supposed to be about."

    That Apple blocked the podcaster app was the most unsurprising development I've ever seen get so much press. Let's be clear. Apple, as a business, with its particular business strategy, is protecting its revenue streams. Media player functionality is key to revenue. I salute anyone with the courage to go after iTunes/iPod functionality, but they should not be surprised when it all ends badly.

    “The labels made us do it” argument about FairPlay and DRM doesn’t make any sense, because the same technology has resurfaced in the App Store.

    This makes no sense whatsoever. Two completely different issues — it's beyond critique.

    "You’ll find that apps downloaded via iTunes — remarkably, even free apps — require authorization from an iTunes account."

    You're glossing over security concerns. I don't want software possibly installed on my iPhone without verification that this is my intention. There's a tradeoff between user freedom and stopping malware.

    "You can’t manage files… … it’s unclear why Apple doesn’t use existing built-in mechanisms for connecting drives via USB tethering"

    Oh yes you can. As you pointed out, third-party apps have stepped in here, and that's a perfectly valid approach. If Apple threw in every possible functionality that some users want, the iPhone would not be the success it is. Most users don't want or need random file storage. That's hard for geeks like us to grasp, but it's true.

    "And most importantly, these tools generally won’t work with music files"

    These tools work just fine to *store* music files. They just don't create a alternate iPod functionality.

    "Apple’s Genius Playlist feature is an embarrassment. …. you’d expect new features, not poor copies (Genius Sidebar, Album Cover view) of features already in competitive products for years."

    This is nonsense. Genius works great for me, and for almost everyone I know who's tried it.

    "Most of the slicker changes in iTunes (Cover Flow, the new visualizer) have been acquisitions."

    Come again? That's completely bizarre . Is there some moral issue about developing vs. acquiring?

    "…and cynically tries to make you buy more music from iTunes."

    Yes — trying to conduct business is cynical — no — it's immoral, too!

    "The alternative is stagnation. We’ve already seen what happens when one vendor dominates a business"

    Let's see what Android does. I'm excited about Android, and about its different philosophy. Let Android put pressure on Apple to open up more. See what people want to buy, and stop pseudo-moral posturing regarding Apple and its legitimate business decisions.

    "Apple could … Work with Adobe to deliver Flash support."

    Flash support is a huge can of worms — technically. CPU load/power consumption is a big deal. People see Flash Lite running on other phones and get confused about how hard this really is. Personally, I hope that the iPhone never supports Flash, and it puts pressure on developers everywhere to use nonproprietary technologies.

  • http://ardour.org/ Paul Davis

    @kimH: the "vibrant alternatives" are really about things that are not part of Apple's (or Amazon's or anyone else's) business plans. Its not about Apple encouraging you to check out Amazon, its about them making it as easy to use non-commercial, small-audience distribution methods as their own. They are not obliged to do this, but history will view them dimly, I think, if they continue to put up barriers to this.

  • KimH

    @Paul Davis: What barriers? It's easy to use music from Amazon, for example. Smaller sources are no harder. Again, what "barriers"?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, hey, I hoped someone would disagree with me on this.

    @Downpressor: Have to differ. The decentralization happened. It's changed what labels are about, even the majors. And, yes, even on iTunes. But then the issue becomes, is Apple the middle man on all of this, grabbing a chunk of the pie and poorly serving the "long tail" music. If I'm being hyperbolic, it may be that this is more self-correcting than I'm giving it credit for. I can certainly tell you right now that music that is more niche sells very poorly on iTunes and relatively well elsewhere. But then, I think fewer restrictions could improve that picture.

    @KimH: Reasonable points here. Look, you're certainly entitled to enjoying using iTunes. The fact that we don't agree on this says to me that choice is important. If everyone had the same reaction, we'd only need one player. And it is basic connectivity. iPod and iPhone are drives with USB and wireless connections that store music and media in standard, non-proprietary formats. An MP3 or MP4 file is obviously NOT a security threat. It doesn't even have DRM on it any more, typically.

    Podcasts have nothing to do with revenue streams, because every last one of them is free. And they're distributed in a standard format to make them more compatible. What confuses me is that this is all stuff Apple advocated. Why would they then turn around and cripple the formats they helped create? Protecting the music database isn't essential now that DRM is leaving the picture. Preventing file transfer seems to me just arbitrary. (At least they're allowing third-party apps, though, I'll give them that.) And I think if the podcast thing is getting disproportionate coverage, it's because it doesn't make any sense.

    Podcasts contributed to the success of the iPod. Apple championed an open, standard distribution method that encouraged a new channel for content, one that didn't directly make them any revenue. In return, that distribution channel contributed to making the iPod the best-selling media player ever. Now it's a question of whether that kind of thing will remain exclusively in the hands of Apple, or whether other people will be able to develop these models and make the device experience richer.

  • http://myspace.com/drvinay vinayk

    It is all very interesting really – granted that such things are the sum total of my knowledge (outside of my job) [which is quite sad] – but it's quite interesting to think about how important it is to be able to easily and freely develop software in this day in age.

    A large proportion of software that everyone uses is open source and freely developed (I currently have adium, cog, firefox and transmission open, and just closed mplayer) on my new shiny iMac – which itself is an example of amazing design – but most of the things I use on it for the majority of my time are free- and without the people developing that software it really would be a different landscape.

    Sure apple has alternatives to all of these things – but often these are made by users for other users so have more useful functionality to them. (music software is another issue – i've spent my share of money on that recently but that is a different debate)

    Now i've said nothing at all new or meaningful there – but it is probably the first time I actually thought about this properly (despite reading so many posts mainly on this site)

    @Peter : I will try songbird again – though the thing I liked best about winamp was how quick it was to load, and how little space it took up – I just load what I want to play and let it rip

  • Ron

    People keep getting on Apple's case for having a centralized distribution system (and it's good that they have some oversight), but seriously there are a number of benefits to consumers for having a centralized system"

    1) There is some oversight to ensure there aren't viruses and trojan applications being spread.

    2) There is a single place to get everything. (This is an important aspect as to why it is so successful. Wouldn't you love a single repository of 'anything' on the Internet? Wikipedia is a good example of what happens when a lot of people come together and generate content en-masse. It is pretty much the defacto standard for encyclopedias on the Net – and in doing so has become much better for it).

    3) There is ONE mechanism for developers to distribute their applications to EVERY iPod owner. This is huge, and has caused some smaller developers to get an audience that would have never been possible any other way. This has allowed these smaller developers to possibly generate enough revenue to develop better and more useful applications which they can use to fuel the growth of their company.

    Personally, I think there should be some oversight of Apple (and other companies like Microsoft) who tend to monopolistic practices, but sometimes there are great benefits to having a centralized system that could not have been achieved in any other way.

    Can you envision any other system that would have generated 100 million downloads in 60 days if it was fragmented? I don't think that if there were several systems available they would have even come close to half that combined, because people just wouldn't have known how or where to get things.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Wait a second, I'm talking about content distribution. Yes, there are plenty of advantages to having a centralized application store; developers are clearly benefiting from that. That's a separate issue from the way apps are approved and the way they're sandboxed on the device, though. And part of what I'm talking about *isn't apps*. It's content. We finally get out of the DRM woods (at least on music), and we wind up with Apple building a software player – hardware combination that acts like a walled garden.

    Despite the fact that I've extended the discussion somewhat, I think there are pretty easy fixes out there for pretty easy problems. For instance, even if Apple wanted to protect their sync conduit via iTunes, they could at least provide the ability to monitor a folder on your hard drive. I'd rather have drive access to my iPod so I could sync direct from Winamp or Songbird, etc., but even this would be a step forward. They could provide over-the-air sync, as Zune and other devices have for months or years.

    Everyone keeps talking about Apple and their business model. That's all fine and good. But, you know, other people have content and business models, too. And they have every right to be critical and protect the stuff they're invested in.

    Incidentally, I'm not blown away by those download numbers. Look at the download numbers on CNET's download.com:
    http://www.download.com/

    Download.com is one "centralized" location, but there are many others, too. (Mac download numbers are high on that site, too.)

    But as I said, apps, I see the argument. The thing is, I don't on music. There are alternatives stores that do really well. We're clearly seeing decentralization in music blogs and the like. So, given this explosion of places to get music content, I think it's unfortunate that it's difficult to get other player software in there, to innovate and compete. And people are absolutely right that a lot of folks feel iTunes is "just fine." But imagine if Google only worked inside Internet Explorer — would anyone be using Firefox or Safari? I think the fact that those players can't sync with Apple's players pretty much makes sure iTunes will retain near-complete dominance.

  • ericdano

    "They could provide over-the-air sync, as Zune and other devices have for months or years."

    FYI if you have an iPhone, you can sync your contacts and what not over the air. For files? Would you really want to drain your iPhone/iPod Touch waiting for a 500Meg movie to be transfered over the air? That would take forever to sync, and basically tie up the device for that period of time. What exactly would the advantage be?

    Android? You want ads on your mobile phone?

    There are some third party sync utilities for non-Apple devices to sync music with iTunes. Check out Versiontracker.com

  • piezo

    A wall around a garden is certainly annoying but it's also that wall which makes the garden seem such a desireable place.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @piezo: Sorry, not buying it. That's a lovely image; I just don't see it working in practice. How, exactly, does my iPod become *more* useful because of that wall? Would it really detract from the value of the iPod if I synced my music in Songbird instead of iTunes, or downloaded a podcast over wifi, or sent song plays to Last.fm?

    @ericdano: I'm testing some of the file sync options now and will report back. That's backwards, though, I want the non-iTunes syncing with the Apple device. Over-the-air sync works, though.

    And as for Android, I'm looking at ads in a couple of iPhone apps right now. Conversely, I'm running various Google apps that *don't* have ads. I think people are blowing this way out of proportion. Google's strategy is most certainly open to criticism, but I think it's about tying you into their services more than it is ads specifically. And, anyway, it's not really worth discussing until the thing ships. For that reason, Apple deserves credit for being the only game in town, at least in some of these areas of functionality. I'm not convinced in the case of stuff like real-time DSP/audio that Android will even change that.

    I do appreciate all these comments; I think they're well-reasoned and that's why I said, I'd just like to have the discussion.

  • piezo

    I didn't mean the restrictions make your iPod more useful, they obviously don't. I just have a feeling that the fact that Apple products seem so attractive, so desireable *beyond* sheer usefulness and the restrictions are somehow related.

  • anonymous

    not bashing apple or fanboy-ing for microsoft, but…

    i find it ironic that when microsoft acts monopolistic they're evil, and when apple acts monopolistic they are actually just trying to make things better for you, have your best interests in mind, and after all, it's their hardware! not yours!

    seems to be a bit of a double standard

  • apoclypse

    I was with you until you said work with Adobe to get flash support. I'm sorry but I don't want flash to ever be on the iPhone. Apple is working really hard to make the internet as standard and as open as possible and they started by saying no to Adobe. The only platform where Flash runs okay on is windows. On a Mac the performance is awful and at the end of the day the iPhone is running OSX. Adobe never bothered to care until the iPhone came out and they saw a platform they couldn't get their hands on. There is almost nothing that Flash can do that Javascript can't.

    I'm sorry but I think you dropped the ball on that one. Especially in a rant about a closed platform, because that is what Flash is, a closed proprietary platform made to stifle the internet.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I'm not sure Apple said no to Flash on some sort of crusade for openness. Flash now supports H.264 playback, so that could be an option. The FLV decoder I believe requires *less* processing power, not more, though, to those couple of platforms. My point here is simply that this opens up more content distribution.

    I'm all for open standards for video distribution. At least at the moment what we have is standards, but they're not free or open. There's not a single free software distribution of video decoding that could be certain to stand up to patent law. It's very unfortunate, and people are aware of this issue and working on it. (As you might imagine, building a patent-proof codec that, by definition, is free, is a huge task.) What that means is that the rest of us can continue to use things like VLC and ffmpeg, but odds are a company the size of Apple, concerned about litigation, will continue to go the proprietary route.

    Sun I know is working on a truly open video standard, but I would be anything like that is at least a few years out.

  • Tom

    I think Apple is trying to kick Microsoft from the "most hated company ever" trone. And it would fit the description a hell of a lot more. Almost everything Apple has done in the last ten years makes you want to throw stuff at the people behind the company.

    Every time they create something that could be something, they seem to be able to make mistakes of epic proportions. Their hunger for dominating the whole world is stopping their ability to make useful amends.

    I mean, why would I have to install a player that would have been laughed at in the C64 era, just to buy an album that I want – in a quality I don't want, on top of that. That smells a lot like conditional sale and that is, apart from being illegal, just plain annoying. We're living in 2008 now. Get with the program, Apple. The problem only gets worse as for some sadistic reason, many people make their music exclusively available in the iTunes Store.

    I just want to buy music and download it in the highest possible quality and then play it in Winamp or on my portable generic media player. I don’t want a low quality app with functions I won’t ever use, that uses too much memory and that’s always running in the background without an option to disable it. I shouldn’t have to install anything after paying more than enough for music in relatively low quality. If I go to my local record store I can find many albums that I want for less money. They’re in best quality and you have a physical product. So if I’m gonna buy that same album online for a higher price, the least I would expect is that I won’t have to install any crapware to be able to enjoy my purchase.

    But the worst part is that most of the people don't even notice how crappy Apple really is. Everyone just keeps praising iTunes/iPod/iPhone/… without even the slightest bit of critique. All their products get hyped, and for a reason, because in all honesty, their physical products are pretty good. But customers shouldn’t have to put up with the world domination attitude that Apple shoves down their throats. In a perfect world Apple would never have gotten this big with all this retarded limitations. But there are always people who don’t know or don’t care and now Apple has gotten so big they can close their crushing grip even further. Everyone just has to follow their lead or miss out on, what could be, “all the fun”.

    I sincerely hope that someone would take over their lead (Google could graciously pull this off if they wanted). The market needs competition, and right now there is none. This always leads to corruption and Apple is the school example of this. If there were some competitors raising the level, Apple would have to up the ante and provide.

    Anyways, I know I’m not buying anything from them as long as they have this retarded company policy of not caring for their customers and only caring for more profit. My sister even gave me an iPod she didn’t need anymore, but the limitations and the obligation to use iTunes just drove me back to my 128MB mp3 stick. That says enough about how convenient Apple’s products really are…

  • anonymous

    as a side note, it appears that android will have midi/sound synthesis support via sonivox:

    http://www.sonivoxrocks.com/google.html

    don't know much about sonivox but they claim to provide support for things like:

    * Real-time Mobile Musical Instruments

    * Music Remixers

    * Adaptive Music Scores

    * Algorithmic song generation

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Wow, that's huge. Sonivox is known as a sample / soundware provider, so this is an interesting departure. Also interesting is the Java support (which incidentally, despite Java's bad rep should be perfectly possible). On the other hand, I'm not sure how well that will compete with the richness of low-latency sound generators possible on iPhone; by comparison, the full version of Pd is up and running on iPhone in the rjdj project.

    I'll say this: mobile platforms are doing things we very recently did only with desktop computers, no question.

  • KimH

    Tom: "Almost everything Apple has done in the last ten years makes you want to throw stuff at the people behind the company."

    Ummm, speak for yourself, dude. Apple isn't perfect — and it is a for-profit entity, which many people are apparently unable to come to terms with. But most of the big things Apple has done don't make *me* want to throw stuff at it. They make me very happy that Apple is innovating and kicking the rest of the industry in the ***.

    Tom: "why would I have to install a player that would have been laughed at in the C64 era"

    Nonsense. I'm a working DJ with 20,000 tracks in my library. I love iTunes. I have an alternate player/library app in my $600 professional DJ system (Traktor Scratch), which I completely ignore, because iTunes is so much better.

    Tom: "Anyways, I know I’m not buying anything from them as long as they have this retarded company policy of not caring for their customers and only caring for more profit."

    "Retarded"? What nonsense. It's unbelievable that you talk about a company like Google "graciously" pulling something off, while railing against Apple. This is plainly irrational, but typical of ranting anti-fanbois.

    Tom: "My sister even gave me an iPod she didn’t need anymore, but the limitations and the obligation to use iTunes just drove me back to my 128MB mp3 stick."

    I hope you enjoy your 128MB mp3 stick. You're really showing Apple & everyone else who's boss!

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  • KimH

    Peter: "I’m not sure Apple said no to Flash on some sort of crusade for openness."

    This is a case where openness helps Apple *and* helps us — and it's the outcome I want in any case. Adobe has opened up its formats and is making efforts to be/look like a good citizen, but at the end of the day, it's still a proprietary tool that's responsible for gigantic proportions of web content, and poised to grow even more in importance.

    Especially with emerging JavaScript frameworks like SproutCore, and ever-increasing JavaScript performance, we're finally seeing that the web and RIAs are possible without Flash, and without any threat of a massive architecture lock-in. As I said, I hope the iPhone never supports Flash, and I hope that Android doesn't either. We can steer web architecture back towards totally open standards this way.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Wait a minute, KimH, I'm lost. If you're for non-proprietary, open-standard, open-source, where exactly does Apple fit in? Adobe, like Apple's toolkit here, tries to offer developers value in their proprietary tool. It's the same thing — only Apple goes further by requiring developer approval, only allowing one distribution channel, and adding an NDA gag order for developers.

    Anyway, yeah, no argument from me — if web video services start embracing JavaScript for embeddable video players and not requiring Flash Player, I'm game. But right now, Flash is there, and it works.

    By the same token, if Apple's toolchain is working for people, great. I don't take any issue with a developer choosing their tools and making them work. What I have an issue with is that there are other choices we might want to take — building communities around playback, opening up distribution via new desktop players, and so on — that are closed.

    And on the development front, just speaking in practical terms, compare if you will:

    Apple iPhone development: Intel Mac + Leopard + proprietary SDK + Xcode + NDA + signed application + single store

    Flash/Flex development: open source toolchain (if you so desire) + any IDE + any OS + no NDA + distribute however you like

    Apple actually *does* win for some developers, but that's a testament to how good some of their tools are, that you'd be willing to make these other tradeoffs. When it comes to "openness," I don't think Apple is scoring any points outside Safari.

  • KimH

    Peter: "Wait a minute, KimH, I’m lost. If you’re for non-proprietary, open-standard, open-source, where exactly does Apple fit in?"

    I'm willing to see Apple be an iPhone gatekeeper, because the consistency and ease-of-use advantage is demonstrably useful in getting the first mass-market convergence device off the ground — jump-starting a brand-new market. And it's just one niche in our vast online world, soon to be joined by the worthy competitor Android — with a different philosophy from another tech giant with deep pockets and vast tech expertise. We'll watch the competing philosophies battle it out.

    Flash, on the other hand, has already won its battle. It's on something like 95% of connected desktops — ubiquitous across virtually the entire mainstream Internet, to the extent that a UK court rules that one can't even describe something as comprising "the whole Internet" without it. There's no worthy competitor waiting in the wings. Forget Silverlight.

    I've showed people their (blank) Flash-based home page on my iPhone. For the first time ever, I can get them to wrinkle their nose at the consequences of assuming everybody sees Flash. That's priceless. I want it to stay that way.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, wearing my Web design hat for a second — yes, I agree, you should design so that you can read something without Flash, I'm absolutely with you there.

    But on a practical level, I also rely on Vimeo and the like, and right now Apple's lack of support is neither fixing nor worsening the problem. We need those embeddable players eventually working on devices, whether it's via Flash or something else. That's a bigger issue than Apple in this case, so I'll stay out of it.

  • http://mistrust.wordpress.com mistrust

    I've been lucky (???) enough to get an iPod Touch free from work (I'm in e-learning at a college), just to try out for testing podcasts videos, and other multimedia stuff we want to put out for students and staff. After a couple of weeks use, all I'm using it for is playing music I've ripped from cds and running Apps like iDrum to make loops for my own music-making. These are the only things I like about the device. Everything else is just too restricting for me – using Safari without being able to play flash clips, not being able to use the iPod as a usb storage device, not being able to transfer notes from a computer, and of course, the tie-in with iTunes (can't even get it to recognise the device sometimes!). I'm lucky that I haven't had to buy one myself, but if I had to buy one, I wouldn't. I'd stick with my generic mp3 player and maybe get an ASUS EE or something that will play all the stuff I want to play on it. I'll pay the extra few pence to buy tracks on iTunes store that's DRM free and will play anywhere.

    Sorry Apple – you were onto a winner with the iPods, but you're going to get your knuckles wrapped one day…..

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @mistrust: well, I wasn't willing to take no for an answer, so I think I should do a round-up of how I've managed to get around these limitations. Flash is no-go, but at least:

    * Evernote transfers notes to and from, and it's free

    * Using a store-bought app for WiFi file transfer though I need to check out the jailbroken options

    * Podcaster is working out really brilliantly, thanks to an Ad-Hoc install

    * Jailbreaking has given me a Terminal app, Audioscrobbling, OGG playback

    * Found an app that purports to do sync, so with that and Podcaster the only reason to use iTunes will be official app install

    So, hey, I'm all for not only complaining about these things but doing what I can to fix them. I don't think it excuses Apple that you have to do that much work, but then, I've also hacked my DS and PSP and am loving all the things I'm not supposed to be doing on them, too (like running homebrew music software).

  • http://mistrust.wordpress.com mistrust

    @Peter

    I'm also one who won't take no for answer. If the iPod was mine I'd definitely mod it, but it's work's and they might want it back! I'll try some of the things you mentioned especially the podcasting stuff. With my work head on it's annoying about the Flash problem but I guess they'll get round to it one day. By the way I'm sending this from my iPod…

  • KimH

    Peter: "We need those embeddable players eventually working on devices, whether it’s via Flash or something else."

    I agree that the embeddable player thing is a problem. Unfortunately, a lot of players require Flash, which is kind of dumb, if you think of it. Why should you need an entire application plug-in architecture just to play a piece of media? Answer: you shouldn't, and as YouTube has demonstrated, there are effective Flash-free workarounds for vendors willing to implement them. Extra interactive controls can be added via Javascript, too.

    So I'll add that to my previous sermon — let my codecs go! Don't tie my media playback to an entire application plug-in architecture…

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Okay, you've got me … I agree. The problem is, I think, the underlying codecs create a whole separate bag of issues. The reason people use Flash is to get around all of those codec issues. YouTube was able to come up with a solution, but it was YouTube-specific and (most importantly) specific to the iPhone, because they knew they could target the codec support on the device. So, I'm absolutely with you in terms of where I'd want things to go in the future, but … it's a little tougher to get there than I'd like, sadly.

  • http://ardour.org/ Paul Davis

    @kimH: the barriers i was referring to earlier come in the form of two basic design assumptions apple have made with the whole ipod/itunes ecosystem:

    a) we know what codecs you want to use and we're the only place you can get them for your ipod

    b) getting media into itunes is the first thing anyone would do before putting it on their ipod

    the second of these flows directly from apple's initial goal of using the ipod to sell more macs (before they released itunes for windows) and perhaps more charitably their desire to provide the user with a very integrated experience. as long as the user's needs and desires fit with apple's idea of what they should be, its all good. the ipod is *so* dependent on itunes (the app) that it appears crippled compared to, say, my iAudio devices, which "just work" on all 3 platforms without any special software. i have a mac, but i don't keep my music on it, and i don't buy music from itunes (emusic & magnatune mostly). my music collection was already ripped to ogg/vorbis format before i got an ipod touch (for quality reasons). no DB access makes use of my preferred music manager (rhythmbox) impossible, even the very idea of a "DB" for what is just a filesystem in essence … these make my ipod touch most a paperweight for me.

    the situation feels to me quite analogous to the situation with developer tools on OS X, actually. as long as you're willing to stay inside the box apple has built for you, the tools are superb. as soon as you want to start to interact with 3rd party software libraries and tools, XCode starts to suck eggs. and worse, if you want to do cross-platform stuff, you end up losing a lot of what XCode offers because its so entangled with XCode itself (suprise!) which is clearly not-cross-platform.

    moreover, i'd love to be developing ipod apps right now, but i am just unwilling to be forced through the filter that apple has imposed. is it really helping ipod users that apple does this? only time will tell. they've sold us all a really capable computing device and made it clear that actually, we shouldn't think of it that way. their choice, i suppose, but deeply frustrating to those of us who can see the technical capabilities of the machine.

    i'd also note in passing that i am very frustrated by the ipod touch/iphone physical interface. the device is cool when you want to hold it in your hand and look at it when using it, but compared to other players i have owned, it is really incredibly difficult to use "blind". I have also found that the touch screen is close to unusable once you start sweating even a little, making the use of my touch during workouts very restrictive. nitpicks? sure – the overall design of the thing is amazing. but are they important to me, and by extension, perhaps others? i think so.

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  • Downpressor

    PeterKim,

    The fact that there are now multiple vendors for digital audio != the pipe dream described. Its another sales channel, no more no less. Its good for us in that at least we have a chance to get our non mainstream stuff into a channel with the same level of reach as any major retail chain, but that does not mean in any way that consumers/listeners will seek our stuff out. That right there was the big lie.

    Sure I'm not growing fat off iTunes checks, but honestly I dont have the time or programming skills to set up my own storefront or the desire to invest in hiring someone to do that for me.

    As for the touch/phone related issues, I never expect my toaster to make me coffee so maybe I'm just too old to understand your complaints. Or maybe to me the desire for anything and everything to be the way I want it looks like entitlementitis. Now if you will pardon me, there are some kids on my lawn and I must go shout at them.

  • KimH

    Paul Davis: "barriers … we know what codecs you want to use…"

    iPod & iPhone support all mainstream non-DRM codecs. Ogg isn't a mainstream codec. Ok, that's harsh, but it's true.

    Paul Davis: "barriers … [Apple assumes] getting media into itunes is the first thing anyone would do before putting it on their ipod…"

    You said earlier, "its about [Apple] making it as easy to use non-commercial, small-audience distribution methods as their own." Well, I'd say Apple already does this — anyone who distributes music with a mainstream codec has no problem reaching iPod users. I think that's fairly "barrier-free." It's true that you can't use your own music management software — that's not optimal. If I didn't like iTunes so much, I'd be more concerned.

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  • poopoo

    So it goes like this..

    iPod & iPhone support all mainstream non-DRM codecs. iPod & iPhone doesn't support Ogg.

    …therefore Ogg is not mainstream.

  • KimH

    Ummm, no. Ogg has been available for years now, also when iPod had lower market share, and in markets where iPod is less popular. It's just never gotten traction- for the mainstream market, it's irrelevant. Too bad, but this can happen even to the best of codecs.

    BTW Ogg should be free, but we don't know if it would stand up to patent challenges. It's never been popular enough for that to be tested.