September 12, 2007

Innovate and Get Sued by Apple?

Yet more evidence came to light this week in my EFF newsletter about Apple's lack of will to compete. In fact, make that Apple's determination to stymie competition in any shape or form. They have never been an open systems company, and it appears now that they don't see any advantage in helping others to expand the market for iPhones. No sirree, that's Apple's territory, and Apple's alone. If you believe Apple, that is. But if Henry Ford had taken the same attitude to free market innovation that Steve Jobs does we would probably still be riding round on horses.

There was a major battle around the ability to have your iPhone load ringtones that you didn't pay Apple 99 cents for. The ModifyMyiPhone site detailed how to download "unauthorized" ringtones using two different pieces of software, iFuntastic and iRingtoner. Just before Apple's recent announcement of additional products including the iPod Touch a company called Ambrosia announced a product called iToner that also allowed the download of ringtones.

Apple's response? Version 7.4 of iTunes automatically deleted any non-approved (i.e. not purchased from Apple) ring tones. Ambrosia figured a workaround for this update, which iTunes version 7.4.1 again defeated, and so on.

Another battle is over video output. Presumably because they can, Apple has locked the video output on recent versions of the iPod classic and iPod nano. Vendors who want to provide compatible accessories are required to buy licensed chips from Apple and pay a fee of 10% of their wholesale price. Apple are charging $49 for a kit containing a video cable that has the activation chip along wiht a power supply. That sounds suspiciously like gouging to me.

The next laptop suddenly looks less and less like an Apple. How can we be for open source and yet condone this kind of behavior in the marketplace?


Anonymous said...

You can start talking about policies concerning things like computers, rather than portable media players, eh?

Anonymous said...

Exactly right. So why are so many open source geeks carrying around Mac's? Perhaps it's more a fashion thing and an anti-MS thing rather than the "enlightened" path. I know some have argued that it's the UI or the hardware, but you sure are paying a huge premium for it.

And then again, when it comes to competition. Just ask any of the companies that made Mac compatibles about Apple's business practices? Oh yeah, you can't because they were all put out of business when Apple changed their mind.

Then there's the argument that Mac OSX is BSD-based and that you could download the non-UI portions of it. Of course, Apple has stopped that too.

Good post.

Steve said...

Anonymous: I believe the way it works is I can talk about whatever the hell I like.

ScW: I can see the attraction of the MacBook. Nice design, Unix-like software, some cool utilities. The prices are more competitive now they are using commodity CPU chips, too. But I want to support open source with my wallet as well as my time, and I don't want to encourage anti-open anti-competitive vendors by buying their products.

Unfortunately the average person in the street is completely clueless about DRM issues, and will happily pay through the nose for something "cool". Geeks are human too, I guess :-)

Unknown said...

Hi Steve,

Lets go back in time... I worked as a tech in the mid 1980's in a medium size computer store. The Apple software was just outside my service window consisting of about 3 sparsely filled shelves.

Macs where way ahead (technologically wise) over IBM and clone pc's at the time except in one area, software. Apple at that time wanted not just any software, but very high quality software. they charged a fairly hefty price for the compiler and libraries, You needed to pay an extra fee or license to sell software written with Apples compiler. (Or more for the compiler for that purpose.) And an additional fee over that for Apple certification.

The end result was not so many people wrote software for Macs. Most people bought clones because they were much cheaper and had more software to run on them. Apple's over restrictive software policies pretty much guaranteed the situation wouldn't change.

What Apple should have done at that time was to give the compiler away and let anyone write software for Macs. To protect quality they only needed to write a standard set of median quality applications. Thus setting the entry level quality bar so to speak.

If they had done that, there would have been an explosion of software for Macs. And many more Macs sold as a result.

Could they be repeating history again...

Ron Adam

Steve said...

Ron: Ironically, at the same time I was one of a number working in pre-sales for Sun Microsystems arguing against their move to charging for the C compiler. The corporate management saw it as a potential profit center, I saw it as throwing away a huge sales advantage.

I don't think Apple will ever get it, which is a pity given the excellent design skills that their products demonstrate. What the heck, if the shareholders don't care, why should we?