Monday, March 16, 2009

Does Apple like piracy?

If not, I can't explain this. In essence, Apple has DRM'd the accessories for the new iPod Shuffle. Meaning that it's illegal under the DMCA for anyone to manufacture accessories for the device -- doing so constitutes reverse-engineering your way around a copyright-protection mechanism, which, AFAIK, is prohibited.

Of course, DRM never stops anyone long-term, as the switchover from Napster to a decentralized network of blogs and torrent sites (some private, which strikes me as oddly reminiscent of the days of BBSes) should demonstrate, as well as the repeated hacking of HD-DVD/Blu-Ray DRM (including the infamous Digg revolt). So, it's only a matter of time before someone breaks the DRM and starts, illegally, manufacturing iPod Shuffle accessories. And people will buy them insofar as they are price-competitive with official Apple accessories. And what's Apple to do then: cripple the Shuffle somehow, so these illegal accessories won't work? send the FBI after people who buy them? try to shut down all the manufacturers (and hope like hell they don't release the specs on the internet beforehand)?

This is no business strategy. It's dogmatic stupidity. It doesn't make long-term sense for Apple to try to restrict competition in the accessories market, as they'll only end up converting the broad market into a black- or grey-market. So where's the logic? I just don't get it.


Catelli said...

Proprietary interfaces that lock you into single vendor solutions isn't new.

Using DRM to accomplish it is though.....

Either way, its dumb, dumb, dumb marketing. If Apple wants to shoot themselves in the foot (and I don't see vendors breaking DRM to go to market, not through legal retail channels anyway) all the power to them.

But this is Apple, this is what they do. This is why the Macintosh is so freaking expensive, you have to buy their hardware to make their software run. There's absolutely no real technical reason why you shouldn't be able to buy the Mac OS and put it on any Intel box. They will sell it to you, but they won't support you if you install on a non Macintosh branded machine.

They want to control the entire chain, the entire company was built on that premise.

If they OEM'd the Mac OS like Microsoft does, they would be a solid competitor in the corporate and personal desktop market. Instead they keep the proprietary business model, which is self-defeating, and that's why they are a bit player.

ADHR said...

Thing is, given that the black and grey markets are clearly growing, not shrinking, I wonder how long it will be before someone does decide to break proprietary technologies like this. Apple can either be ahead of the curve or behind it, but I don't see how they're going to avoid the same problems that are affecting music, film, games, publishing, etc, etc.

Catelli said...

Granted. But selling hardware is a little harder than transmitting files. If a black marketer screws up the specs, they could sell you a device that blows up your iPod because of over or undercharging.

That level of uncertainty will lead to some hesitation in accepting black or grey market peripherals.

The DRM component is a new wrinkle, but its the same problem as other hardware vendors that don't publish the specs for the interfaces of their equipment. Such devices haven't created a large grey market in the past, largely due to the reluctance of consumers to trust the quality of those components.

Though, nothing has been as successful as the iPOD. So it does remain to be seen if historical market acceptance applies in this instance.

Catelli said...

We both missed the blingly obvious. This won't create a black market of accesories, it will create a market of iPod knock-offs that are DRM free. Look how quick China came out with an iPhone clone.

ADHR said...

Knock-offs are one thing. I don't agree, though, that there isn't a market for black or grey market peripherals. I have two grey market "Japanese converters" for my old NES console, which allowed (sporadically) for playing Famicom games on a NES. And those were fairly popular in my middle-school circle.

I suspect -- I don't have any evidence, but I suspect -- that given the ubiquity of the iPod and its relatively low price point ($50 at Future Shop), there will be a greater willingness to risk problems with the hardware in order to gain greater functionalisty. (And, possibly, stick it to Apple. Can't forget that motive. ;) )