Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The iPhone software advantage: strong Digital Rights Management

This is sad.

But it must be said.

I am no friend of Digital Rights Management. I don't buy FairPlay'd music -- because I can't play DRMd music on my car stereo [1].

On the other hand, I remember when there was a large selection of games and children's software for the Apple II and the original Macintosh. There's almost nothing left like that today - on XP or OS X. The CDs we bought 5-8 years ago were the last of that wave, and they no longer work on XP or 10.4 Classic [2].

There are such games today of course. They're on the Nintendo platform [3].

Why is this software on Nintendo, and yet not on OS X?

It's the Digital Rights Management. You can't give a copy of your favorite Wii game to a friend. You can't even move the games you bought at work to your home. This 21st century version of "copy protection" cannot be broken as easily as as the 1980s version.

The iPhone, like the Nintendo Wii, has very robust DRM. It will not be possible to download an iPhone app via iTunes and install it on your wife and children's iPhones and iTouchs [4].

Unlike the Palm, the iPhone and iTouch will combine robust DRM with a single contact built-in delivery mechanism for software developers willing to push through the distribution hurdles.

Guaranteed distribution. Guaranteed copy protection/DRM.

The iPhone will have a very large software advantage over the Mac version of OS X, and over the Palm and Microsoft mobile devices that have preceded it.

Ringtones were once a billion dollar industry, though that's dying now. The iPhone software advantage will be bigger.

We'll have to pay for the apps though.

I'm happy to do that. It's just too bad we need the DRM to make this work.


[1] Most know this, but it's worth mentioning that AAC is a format and not a DRM mechanism. AAC encoded music plays on our SONY car stereo and our Nokia and Blackberry phones).

[2] 10.5, of course, doesn't support Classic on any platform, so when our G5 iMac dies so will all our old favorite children's apps. My son collects the old CDs in his desk drawer, hoping, perhaps, that they'll one day come to life again.

[3] It is odd that no other game platform seems to have realized that teen players come from children players, and yet they don't provide entry level game software. Maybe the execs don't have children?

[4] On OS X and Vista there is a strong tie between a hardware device and a user identity. Each device must sync to a single account on a single machine, though Apple has screwed up the software/hardware/multi-user integration (See also). Once you start going down the iPhone/iTouch route, you will discover a very interesting set of problems with sharing your music library.

PS. An exercise for the Reader: Consider an alternative path that Google's Android might take, and how that path resembles a future funding mechanism for the New York Times.

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