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My post a few weeks ago prompted an enormous response.  Some of it was critical, some informational, and some just plain vulgar.  But today a new comment was posted that made me do some thinking.

He begins:

Hello my name is Matty and I bought an iPod. This is why I bought an iPod , and what you could do to make me buy something else.

Matty explains that he was introduced to iTunes first.  He likes the application (he’s using the Windows version), and uses it to organize his music.  He offers criticism of Media Player 10 (long load times, and he seems to think it launches the MSN Music Store automatically each time it loads, which is not true) – all counter to my experience.  In fact, it’s iTunes that I find to be cumbersome (except for its excellent indexed search functionality).  But that’s beside the point.

Anyway, because I was using iTunes so much, and the apple ipod ads were cool, I bought myself an ipod. It's lovely to use, and I probably don't use half of the stuff it can do. But it's nice to use, the scroll wheel is just the best thing ever, although maybe some pressure sensitive pads would also be as good. the main thing is that it seems to stop scrolling exactly when I want it to. Scroll click scroll click scroll play.

I know exactly what he means.  When I had my first-gen iPod it was exactly the same way.  It was almost like the iPod knew exactly where I wanted to go.  None of the competing players have matched the scrolling functionality of the iPod in my opinion – though they are getting much closer.  The jog dial on my Carbon, for instance, does a fine job navigating the cursor where I want it without any “misses,” but in a long list I can’t scroll nearly as fast as I could on the iPod… perhaps there’s a sensitivity option I didn’t notice, but it’s still a jog dial with “clicks”.  The best part about the iPod’s scroll wheel is its fluid, analog nature.  The amount of movement needed to trigger a scroll actually varies… almost like those advanced power steering systems that adjust to give you tighter control at higher speeds, and more room for precision at low speeds.  So that’s something the competition can still work on.

I've heard lots of people complain about DRM files. Are Apple files DRM? Because i seem to be able to just drag them from itunes into messenger when I want to share a song with someone.

This triggered something in my mind.  With all the heated debate on the internet about Apple’s super restrictive DRM policies, it never dawned on me that no one cares.  Maybe it’s because Matty hasn’t bought many songs from the iTMS… if he did, he’d find that he can’t send that track to his friends (well, he can, but it won’t play on their computer).  But what this tells me is that despite all the controversy in tech circles, the general population has no idea what’s going on.  All they know is that they can download music from Apple and put it on their iPods.  This is brilliant for Apple… Build up a huge user base leveraging your very successful portable player product to draw customers to the iTMS… Then when those users go to buy a new portable player a few years down the line (or buys one for a family member, etc.) they will be compelled to buy an iPod even if they’d rather have something else!  Because if they buy non-Apple, none of their music will work.  That’s a problem for me.  It’s kind of the same reason I despise cell phone contracts.  Sure, I’ve chosen your company today because I think they’re the best for me.  But 6 months or a year from now I might decide I need something different.  Or what’s worse, the cell phone company to whom I’ve sworn 2 years of allegiance will start to slack off.  Not having a contract gives me leverage and ensures that they will not only have to provide the best product and service NOW, but that they will have to continue to do so at an acceptable level, lest I leave for a competitor. 

This is kind of the problem people have with Microsoft.  Many people honestly believe that Microsoft’s domination of the OS market allows them to stagnate without fear of losing their customers (at least in the relative short-term).  The bigger problem, though, is that there’s no easy solution.  Forcing Microsoft to open-source all of Windows might work, but it’s an evil, dastardly thing to do (not open source Windows, I have no problem with that… but any government forcing such an action is a horrible idea).  But this isn’t a Microsoft-specific problem, either.  It could happen with any software platform that has such a pervasive market share.  Restricting Microsoft’s ability to use that domination as leverage in other markets is a good way to at least mitigate the problem. 

But the solution to the cell-phone contract problem is obvious… get rid of the contracts.  Likewise, the solution to the Apple proprietary DRM technology is to get rid of the DRM… or at least license it to whomever wants it.  Imagine if Sony had made deals with every music content provider in order to offer their music on the first Compact Discs – and then insisted that NO ONE else could make a CD player compatible with their discs?  Scary thought, eh?  Well it’s happening.  I just hope people figure it out sooner, rather than later.

And to be clear, as I’ve said before… I don’t want Apple to fail with the iPod or the iTMS.  In fact, I want an iPod.  But I refuse to buy one that A) wont’ play most of the music on my computer and B) won’t let me choose from whom I buy music online and C) forces me to use another of the companies' products (iTunes).

Posted on Friday, February 4, 2005 2:17 PM | Back to top

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