Photo (CC) Tim Douglas.

Critics frequently attach the phrase “lock-in” to Apple’s iTunes Store – iTunes – iPod/iPhone combination. But, in the post-DRM age, what does that mean, exactly?

First, you have to recall that while for many of us the manual drag-and-drop music management is appealing, it isn’t so for many average consumers. They want sync. That means that music will be stored in iTunes and synced to Apple devices and nothing else. Apple is serious about locking you to their store and their devices, enough so that they frequently update their software with special keys that prevent the use of devices. iTunes is “free,” but Apple determines which mobile devices you can use and which you can’t. And Apple has gone after anyone who dares give you the ability to use your own music software or own devices, including efforts (ironically) to make their iPhone and iPod work with Linux and open source players.

These efforts don’t protect the music or prevent privacy – they protect users of Apple’s software and mobile devices from using anything but Apple’s tools. Yet Apple has used the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to take legal action over anyone who dares to even talk about how to use legally-purchased music and hardware:

OdioWorks v Apple

Perhaps suspecting their case was too thin to defend, Apple eventually backed off that particular claim — after, says the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “7 months of censorship and a lawsuit.”

Apple Withdraws Threats Against Wiki Site

But the software and hardware locks are unchanged. And Apple has won, in my view, an even more important battle: they have a monopoly over mindshare.

Here’s an example from a recent review by Gizmodo of the Android 2.0 mobile operating system from Google, as implemented on the Verizon-distributed Motorola Droid. They have some fair points about Android’s maturity and strong and weak points. But note what they say about music sync:

The only way to get your music and videos on the phone is to manually drag and drop the files. There is no syncing, no easy way to get your music library onto your phone. How are normal people supposed to figure this out? Verizon reps actually joked about how putting music on the Droid is sure to make for a lovely Saturday afternoon. What. The. Shit.

In fact, this is technically accurate, to my knowledge, only if you’re using iTunes. That incompatibility is engineered specifically by Apple. It’s a “feature”: other vendors could make other devices sync with iTunes, but Apple engineers regular updates to prevent them from doing so. In fact, while Apple was conceding defeat in its efforts to censor the Web over its iTunes lock, it was simultaneously busy blocking the Palm Pre from working with iTunes. This should be especially sad to long-time Mac watchers, who saw a Mac community railing against Microsoft’s effective office software and operating system monopolies in the 90s. Those Mac historians should also recall the early development of iTunes and shareware predecessor SoundJam, both of which worked with a variety of hardware. Now, some members of the same Mac community cheer market share numbers and anti-competitive practices by Apple.

But, engineering aside, it’s really the mindshare battle that’s most impressive. Gizmodo, in saying the Android “doesn’t sync,” really means that it “doesn’t sync with iTunes.” And given iTunes’ massive market share, Gizmodo is not alone – I’ve seen similar complaints from other press outlets and, anecdotally, many, many users.

In fact, Android sync is supported by a variety of applications. In my tests, it works with the open-source players Songbird (Mac, Windows, Linux), Banshee (Mac, Linux), Rhythmbox (Linux), Winamp (Windows), Media Monkey (Windows), and yes, even Microsoft’s own Windows Media Player. Microsoft may restrict the use of its Zune media player, but ironically its music playback software is far more open than Apple’s.


Banshee automatically syncs my Android on Ubuntu Linux. And yes, even normal people, or “human beings” as the Ubuntu folks like to say, can use this. I find myself cursing at iTunes, and have even found this easier.

By “sync,” incidentally, I mean automatically – it’s no harder to use these applications with Google Android than Apple’s iTunes and iPhone/iPod. I personally find most of them more flexible and intuitive than iTunes. And I can show someone in a couple of minutes how to manage their device via the file system, too – even “normal people.” (I definitely don’t count as “normal,” so no argument there. But presumably “normal people” can learn to use the Mac Finder, right? Apple certainly argues they can – then locks users out of that tool when they connect an Apple mobile player.)

This is not a pro-Android argument, despite the screenshot. Any music player or phone that supports normal disk mounting will work the same way.

Why should all of this matter to musicians? The reasons monopolies are a concern in the first place has to do with pricing, and media monopolies add to that control of culture and speech. Even if your music isn’t distributed through iTunes, pricing and consumption patterns, and even the kinds of music people listen to and where they discover it are now being deeply impacted by Apple. Apple, in turn, by convincing users that there are no other options and engineering interoperability out of their products protect that control, just as digital music is growing by leaps and bounds. (For statistical evidence of the resulting trends, see today’s other story, linked below.)

I spoke to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann in April about the paper-thin (literally) arguments from Apple, when Apple was trying to prevent websites from talking about the database lock between iTunes and mobile devices:

All Apple has told us about this is in the letter they sent to us in December, as posted on the website as an exhibit to our complaint. Apple simply cites the fact that the iTunesDB page authors said that the obfuscation mechanisms used to create the iTunesDB has “may reside” in the FairPlay DRM code.

…The important thing here is that the iTunesDB pages were simply discussions about what might need to be done to reverse engineer the iTunesDB hashing. There was nothing to indicate that the efforts had succeeded. So even if understanding the iTunesDB hashing mechanism somehow magically unlocked all of FairPlay (which would seem to be far fetched), nothing on the pages suggests that the authors were anywhere near that goal.

Note that at the time, the EFF did not claim Apple lacked the right to make these kind of locks. The EFF told CDM at the time, “They have every right to do – to try to block it. Apple can certainly try to block it. What they can’t do is use inapplicable federal law to use legal threats to get them to stop.” And Apple backed off those claims.

The issue is whether you should invest in a product that limits your freedoms to use it. And the issue for musicians is whether this kind of a behavior from a company with an effective monopoly is limiting the potential power of digital music listeners in the future.

This is not to say that there aren’t reasons to choose to use an Apple device or its iTunes software. As reader “low resolution sunset” says in comments on the previous story:

This is pure conjecture: but I tend to think that slick interface design, trust, and loyalty for the Apple brand identity is what’s winning them the dominant market share of downloads.

Indeed. So, why not rely on that design, trust, and natural loyalty? Why force loyalty through engineering? And even given these qualities, isn’t there a danger when one company becomes so dominant that people don’t so much as consider alternatives? What’s to keep Apple competitive on good design if they have no competitors?

I certainly can’t answer those questions. And in the meantime, I’m looking to other alternatives, alternatives that have made me quite happy.

More on what this can actually mean:

Digital Sales Up, But is Apple Monopoly the Price? NPD, Mint Data, Editorial Analysis

  • I'm really done with iTunes. However owning an iPhone (which I wouldn't like to replace) I'm forced to use Apple's overly restricted iTunes which forces me to manually add every fucking media file i want to add to my collection. Seriously – How can you claim to be THE media player without automatic library folder monitoring. Besides iTunes on Windows is ridiculously slow. Is there any alternative to feeding one's iPod/iPhone other than iTunes? DoubleTwist doesn't seem to work all the time.

  • rhowaldt

    i use SharePod, and i love it. can be used portable (that means running it from your iPod) as well. it's tiny, gets updated to work with the newest models, and works by simply dragging your files into the window.

    i've tried a lot of iTunes alternatives and i find this definitely the best.

    you will need iTunes to 'find' your device the first time, but after that you can just use SharePod. download it here:

  • @michi: last I tried Winamp supported iPods pretty well.

  • ericdano

    Um, Michi, iTunes does have a folder that it will automatically add to iTunes.

    It is true that there is NO way to have iTunes actively look at a directory for changes. And this sucks. Especially if you use a NAS or have music shared across multiple computers from a shared source (NAS or centralized computer).

    You might investigate SuperSync. It is the closest thing I have found that will fix the above problem. It is slow though, especially on a library that is 6 digitals in size.

    But seriously, why is it such a problem to add the media to iTunes? On a mac, by default, an mp3 that you click on gets played/added to iTunes. It would be nice if iTunes would move that file to the trash after it added it. That would be my only complaint.

  • I'm an apple an

    Apple is so cool…

  • salamanderanagram

    itunes on windows is the worst. it's slow, it always has 3 or 4 processes running in the background even when it's not open, it asks you to update constantly, even when it's not running, etc.

    i can click on itunes, wait for 10 seconds, then click on winamp, and winamp will be open and playing music by the time itunes loads up.

  • ditto, salamander. I also jumped ship for WinAmp. Another thing about iTunes is that it keeps installing a Quicktime icon into my system tray. Anytime iTunes updated, no matter how hard I tried with SpyBot S&D to prevent it, Quicktime would pop up in my system tray. I'd have to manually remove it after every iTunes update.

    So. Obnoxious. Why does anyone even need a Quicktime system tray icon, anyways?

    Sidenote: I've never really enjoyed a music program indexing/syncing all my music on my computer. It's just not my style. I prefer to browse through folders, dragging and dropping onto winamp, then building a playlist that way.

    Am I the only one who does this?

  • Well…

    I don't have an ipod, but I use iTunes because it automatically organize my library for me. Nothing to do if it's tagged right, it's properlly move to the right place.

    Winamp don't do that. I still have to place create the directory for the artist, one for the album, then move the file there, update the library and hoping everything is right. Why can't it automate this process for me ? I don't want to micro manage my music collection. I prefer to listen to music. Right Now.

    newmiracle : Quicktime preference, uncheck "show icon in system tray" or something alike. Never have shown again since itunes 8, but right, before that it was popping again on each update.

  • kevin

    i think the biggest problem here is that there isn't another option with nearly as many features..

    afaik, winamp doesn't provide the same type of library user interface with playlists in as concise of a way. it's good to know that it works for some people like newmiracle, but the consolidation of all of my music into a single place where i can play all of it on shuffle is a huge deal for me.

    every single linux counterpart that i've tried is hopelessly incomplete, broken, and has been out of development for far too long. =(

  • Jaime Munarriz

    I highly recomend my Sansa Fuze, with a microSD slot, you copy files and organize them at your free will.

    I use the main memory for my favorite albums, and the SD for new stuff I want to check.

    I can create folders (electronica/jazz/ambient…) and navigate inside.

    I really prefer this method.

  • Ben

    I really don't understand the anger at apple over Palm Pre syncing… Palm made a sold a device that used a program hack, it was a bug, apple fixed the bug and the Pre stops working. So rather then rally against Palm people attack Apple. Palm could have written their own software to allow them to sync with itunes like other manufacturers have.

    It's just a business move to try and make Palm look like an empowering alternative to the iphone, however it's jerking palm's own customers around as an advertising strategy.

  • salamanderanagram


    "but the consolidation of all of my music into a single place where i can play all of it on shuffle is a huge deal for me."

    uh, you just add your entire music folder to the playlist in winamp, turn shuffle on and hit play? it's not hard, unless your music is far-flung across your computer.

  • salamanderanagram

    @ben, locking out a competitor's device for working properly with itunes is extra work for apple. they go out of their way to make their software less useful with the hardware of their choice, they spend money making their software less useful to you. it's an ass-backwards move, that's why people are pissed.

  • Ben

    But the rules have not suddenly changed, Apple's software has only ever worked on Apple's hardware. It's nothing new. Apple has provided the tools for developer to allow their users to access itunes content with other software and other hardware, it's up to the developers to take advantage of it.

    Releasing software that you know will break as it relies on a programming flaw is terrible business. Why hasn't Palm caught more flak for it?

    iTunes success isn't the result of anti-competitive practice it's because of attention to detail and user experience. It seems like those are the two areas Palm has clearly overlooked.

  • Zach

    The primary argument for locking iTunes to iPod/iPhone is user experience. Apple tries to provide an end-to-end experience to which users seem to respond. Yes, it's less open/flexible/powerful/feature-rich (however you talk about such things) in many ways, but it reduces complexity for users. It's a trade off that Google and Apple take very different philosophies. Android is more flexible and open, but more complicated to use for users. The iPhone is closed in the Apple end-to-end model, but provides a more seamless, "just works" user experience. Flexibility and openness require greater complexity. One only needs to compare the complexity of running Linux versus OS X for a good analog. A lot comes down to the user's patience and needs. I for one default to OS X because it takes a lot less effort maintaining than Ubuntu and Windows. Of course, that is just my personal experience with Ubuntu and Windows.

  • kobe

    my only gripe is that itunes won't play FLAC files. now that's just asinine.

  • joker

    I record music on to tapes off the radio. I listen to them on a walkman. I get hours of quality music for free with very little effort. By recording shows by dj's I like, I know I'll be provided with a mix of music that I'll enjoy, that I'd probably hear no place else without having to do a thing but set the time for my deck. I never have to deal with syncing or apple or whatevernonsense. IMO if you're dealing with some kinda pod and computer for your music you've drunk the kool aid and lost the game.

  • Bynar

    My main gripes with Apple is the fact that they still haven't been even remotely interested in developing an OSX for PCs. I love Apple's software, but I really dislike Apple's limited choices for computers. As for Itunes, I have no serious complaints. I hardly ever update. That takes me to another problem with Apple. I'm on OSX Tiger still and I have no desire want or will to update. However, Apple no longer wants to provide support for an operating system that is only a few years old. On the other hand, Microsoft still actively supports XP and only dropped support for Windows 3.1 a few years ago. I think this reflects poorly on Apple Incs priorities.

  • salamanderanagram

    "Releasing software that you know will break as it relies on a programming flaw is terrible business. Why hasn’t Palm caught more flak for it? "

    since apple is the one breaking the software, intentionally, and is actually spending money to lock out a competitor, they're the ones catching flak for it, and rightly so. it's an anti-competitive business practice.

  • An interesting article with some good points. However in my personal experience the digital infastructure that iTunes created a few years ago (when everyone else wouldn't/couldn't sell online) has been an amazing and profitable digital sales platform. Both my customers and I have both benefited from iTunes.

  • Adam Griffin

    You took the words right out of my mouth. iTunes sucks!

  • Sir Reginald Braithi

    There is an app on Windows that can sync to iTunes but with some choice/control over the folders to be synced and so on. J River Media Center (think it's on v14 now, I'm running v13 here). It's not free sadly (though the Media Jukebox version of the app is if you wanna check that out).

    It lets you have different libraries too (it is technically possible to have several libraries for iTunes but they don't half make it messy to do so).

    To be honest a lot of this iTunes grief is due to the database driven system in the iPods themselves. Apple's take on it is that users have no need for the file structure of their source libraries of music, only the files themselves (and their tags) need to be imported to the iPod. Of course without wanting to state the obvious but if your tags aren't quite up to scratch you quickly end up with a real f*ckin mess on your iPod when trying to play compilations, find albums etc etc.

    From that argument, I've always found mp3 players that use actual file structure browsing to be far easier and more reliable to use. Syncing is simply mirroring the file structure of your source library from the computer, and any number of apps can do that job. The other advantage is if any files have no tags or wrong info, it doesn't stop you playing them. If like me, you have wavs, aifs, mp3s, dumped into temporary folders (maybe your own music in progress), it's a lot more useful to be able to browse to that folder on the mp3 player and play everything in it, than the ipod method which would import some of them, reject some of them, and the ones that it did import have absolutely no linkage within the iPod 'system' other than you trying to remember which files/names were in the folder.

    The iRiver hard disk players were always good for this, literal file structure browsing as opposed to database driven. It's a shame there aren't many players in the market now offering large hard disk based mp3 players that support several formats, have no drm, and read file structure.

  • rondema

    I love my iPhone.. It is by some way the best bit of portable technology I have ever owned. However, I despise iTunes (I nearly cried when I was forced to install it) and don't subscribe to the Apple dictatorship model. I will jump ship just as soon as the competition reaches (and surpasses) the mark, which it will.

  • bLcKtRsH

    apple dictatorship model @rondema? ooookay, then don't buy the player.

    the software and experience design plus industrial design are all just the result of good innovation.

    apple for that reason doesn't ever run into liability issues when it comes to compatibility and quality control.

    companies need to find their own apple and make oranges.

  • Just a few notes on alternative players:

    I have no qualms recommending either Banshee or Rhythmbox on Linux. They're both superb players. They don't have some of the bells and whistles of these other players, but to me, there's some appeal to that – they focus on the stuff you actually use. Of course, they won't be for everyone, but if you had a player that didn't work on Linux I suspect you ran into something older / less functional. On Windows, if you want more management options than iTunes, look to MediaMonkey. It's a far more powerful tool for organizing media. Heck, even Windows Media Player has *some* things about it that are positive – it did the album-cover browsing before iTunes, in fact.

    By the way, Banshee and Songbird also run on Mac. Even without replacing iTunes, they could be worth a look as an additional tool.

    Of course, this isn't the point. If iTunes does offer a superior user experience, why not let it stand on the quality of that user experience? Why prevent iTunes from syncing with non-Apple mobiles? Why prevent syncing the iPod and iPhone with other players, or allowing users to manage their library?

    Let's say you could really care less. You want to buy an iPhone and plug it into iTunes and you're happy. Terrific! But is it really a *feature* if the software then prevents you from managing your library with another tool, or dropping some songs onto your phone?

    It wasn't actually always this way. Early iPods didn't have manual, drag-and-drop sync, that's true, but they didn't have the same degree of protection, either. And earlier versions of iTunes actually advertised interoperability with other players.

    Here's iTunes ad copy from 2001:

    "Take MP3s on the Run

    Use USB to connect to popular personal MP3 players like Nomad and Rio. Simply drag files from your iTunes library or playlists to the player icon. MP3s quickly copy over and you’re ready to go."

  • Apple has succeeded because they have offered the best complete solution to purchasing, managing, and playing personal digital music collections.

    They started this at a time when the music industry was reeling from piracy and options for purchasing digital music were fragmented and limited.

    Yep, iTunes is free and dominant. It's very useful with lots of robust encoding options. It is easy to use, stream, and manage your music collection.

    Apple has protected iTunes and generally limited interoperability with non Apple devices. Other companies do this sort of thing too — Zune only works on PCs. You need Adobe Photoshop to open Photoshop documents. You need Protools and Avid approved hardware to open Protools sessions.

    By comparison, since Apple and the labels eliminated DRM, their model is far more open! You can open iTunes purchase MP3s in other programs, you can bring mp3s into iTunes from other programs, etc. You just can't use iTunes to manage and sync files on non-Apple devices.

    Other companies can write their own software for their own devices — for instance Blackberry has iTunes sync and Windows Media sync built into their software.

    You are suggesting that Apple has done some unsavory stuff in filing against OdioWorks. In reading the claims, it's clear to me that the ultimate goal of the these developer efforts would have involved circumventing FairPlay DRM to get iTunes songs to play on platforms other than iTunes. Now that DRM is no longer being used on iTunes, Apple dropped the action.

    "The issue is whether you should invest in a product that limits your freedoms to use it."

    I completely agree. If you find a better or more open solution out there for your music (and these things are important to you) by all means go for it!

  • I treied beatport, I tried Amazon, but they both fail. Beatport for their insane use of flash instead of focusing on providing a useable search. Amazon for their wierd ass downloader and constant IP based filtering.

    iTunes works well for me and the iTunes store as well since they dropped DRM (bummer though that Ableton Live doesnt support AAC). What doesnt work well is the iPhone. Its a castrated OS (no multi tasking?). The main reason I got it was its integration with iTunes (mostly the fact that I rate most of my songs on the go). But of course Apple gets away with all this insane restrictions because of their fenced of eco-system that is probably a monopoly by this point.

    Anyways, the N900 looks tasty (how about Mixxx on your smatphone?) and there isnt anything to special in iTunes that I am really bound to it. Then again lots of DJ software has nice (ok strike nice .. ) iTunes integration, but in the end all I really need is to be able to get my playlists into my DJ software and even Traktor doesnt provide a way to keep iTunes playlist insync with their internal ones. So you might as well drag and drop out of any random application instead of using the iTunes node in Traktor.

    One step towards freeing the world from iTunes oppression?

  • @Dave:

    Actually, I believe your analysis of Apple's motivations doesn't quite square with the timeline of when things happened, and how these technologies are different.

    There are two technologies here:

    FairPlay is an anti-piracy technology that protects media from being copied and played back without authorization.

    iTunes obfuscation is what was at issue in the OdioWorks censorship case. This is a technology built into iTunes and Apple mobile media players that prevents interoperability with devices and players other than those made by Apple. It's technically unrelated to FairPlay, despite Apple's claims.

    First, the DRM issue:

    It would be extremely difficult to credit Apple with eliminating DRM. I actually owned a Rio; those devices began DRM-free and sites like eMusic sold DRM-free music before Apple. DRM clearly came from the labels, no argument there. But it was only after iTunes became a dominant music store and Apple's FairPlay technology threatened to give Apple complete control over music distribution that labels made the decision, one by one, to drop DRM.

    Next, the obfuscation / interoperability issue:

    "In reading the claims, it’s clear to me that the ultimate goal of the these developer efforts would have involved circumventing FairPlay DRM to get iTunes songs to play on platforms other than iTunes."

    That's incorrect, based on my understanding of the technology in question. But while the technology can get confusing, the timeline is pretty easy to understand, so let's look at that.

    April 2003: Apple introduces the iTunes Music Store, which contains FairPlay technology for mobile players. This is iTunes 4.0, incidentally, which I think is something people missed — the product itself dates to 1999, and was acquired by Apple in 2000.

    2004: VirginMega complains to the French Competition Council that Apple refused to license FairPlay. Ironically, at the time Virgin lost to Apple because Microsoft WMA was considered a viable alternative and purchased music was a small part of the market for digital music – neither of which is true today.

    February 2007: Steve Jobs issues his famous "Thoughts on Music," in which he argues against DRM.

    May 2007: Apple begins DRM-free music sales on all EMI music.

    May 2007: Amazon announces its DRM-free online music store, which will launch with multiple labels (not just EMI) by September 2007.

    September 2007: Apple adds the hash check that confirms that a connection is made from iTunes to iPod and iPhone and not via any other hardware/software combination. This is built into the mobile device. If the hash check is not confirmed, the *database on the player* is rendered unreadable. (That's the "end user experience" from Apple — a device that cripples itself if you try to use any other software.) The goal appears to be (and certainly the net effect is) disabling third-party music management tools. This is unrelated to piracy, because FairPlay operates on files, independent from the hash check, which operates on the mobile database.

    November 2008: Apple issues a takedown notice to a wiki that contains information on the hash check. Apple naturally claims this is related to FairPlay, because only as such would they be able to employ the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. However, that is a factually inaccurate claim.

    January 2009: Apple announces the removal of FairPlay. Note that these negotiations had already been taking place with labels, meaning they were almost surely concurrent with Apple's takedown notice.

    March 2009: All FairPlay restrictions removed from the iTunes Music Store.

    April 2009: The Electronic Frontier Foundation countersues.

    July 2009: Apple drops their complaint against the site, months *after* the EFF complaint. But note that in Apple's letter to the EFF, the explanation is that the iTunesDB codes in question were no longer being used – and thus were no longer harmful.

    Why? Because Apple has stopped doing this kind of blocking? Wrong. In fact, as recently as —

    October 29, 2009: Apple releases iTunes 9.0.2, disabling Palm Pre synchronization. The reason the iTunesDB code is no long relevant is that Apple has added new code to iTunes that specifically determines USB identification.

    In other words, I could defend Apple if the timeline went like this:

    1. Apple opens the store, and is forced to add DRM by evil record labels.

    2. Apple moves to prevent software and hardware from getting around DRM.

    3. Apple says dropping DRM is a good idea.

    4. Apple drops DRM.

    But the order is actually this:

    1. Apple opens the store, and is forced to add DRM by evil record labels.

    2. Apple says dropping DRM is a good idea.

    3. Apple drops DRM.

    4. Apple moves to prevent software and hardware from getting around DRM.

    See the problem?

  • Brian

    I think iTunes is fine. It wouldn't be possible to design a single app that worked well for all types of users. I for one, get by and sometimes I even like it (auto management of music library is great).

    I also think that Apple should be allowed to control the software they make for their hardware. Is there some implication because iTunes is free that it should support all hardware? I really hope that Apple is allowed to continue controlling the software they write for the hardware they make. We've seen what other companies have been able to accomplish and it just highlights how important the software strategy is for success. Apple deserves to be successful after 20 years of being a distant runner up.

    Also, how can you have a monopoly with so many options available to you? I buy a lot of music off of Amazon because its less expensive, and often from Bleep because its the only place to buy some music. (VERY expensive). There are certainly no shortage of options for those of you unhappy with what Apple has on offer. I think that help mitigate claims that Apple has a lock on the industry. Someone has to be the leader, so why not let it be a company who struggled for years to figure out how to be one?

  • Daniel

    What's worse than iTunes not working with a device is iTunes messing up the file structure and rendering your player useless by simply connecting it via USB. I've had this issue with my Zen Stone and whenever I want to change the music on it, I have to copy the files to a memory stick, find a PC and use it to copy the files. Way to go, Apple…

  • edison

    F itunes in the A

    file structure is mad wack

  • …wait, who said Android was 'complicated'? It's not. Just saying.

    It's the apps, stupid! This is just conjecture on my part, but I think the reason Android hasn't taken off is because the hardware doesn't seem to match the iPhone yet and certain limitations in the SDK.

    Cool 3D games, fun audio toys, and anything multitouch. The iPhone does 'em and Android doesn't (for the most part). I think once there's stronger hardware to backup Android and a better implimentation of audio/midi in the SDK we'll see Android gain in popularity. If on top of that, Google manages to wrangle a multitouch patent then I'd bet a dollar on Android ftw.

    But it's not "complicated". They just don't know how to advertise it, so they talk about open source. Then mom and dad don't really know what to think because they don't know what that means.

  • "4. Apple moves to prevent software and hardware from getting around DRM."

    Music DRM isn't the only kind that Apple has to deal with. You can bet that the Film & TV industry's contractual arrangements with Apple are at least as aggressive as those with the music business. Remember that Apple was in a position where it HAD to disable the iTunes store completely if it couldn't meet contractually imposed deadlines for "fixing" security holes in the iTunes DRM. I think those kinds of arrangements would make any company a little paranoid.

    The Palm Pre issue is that Palm have created a device that spoofs another manufacturer's ID in DIRECT violation of the USB Spec's rules. They've been wrapped over the knuckles by the USB Forum about this. Apple is completely morally and legally in the right to disable access to a device that's doing this.

    As many other people have noted, other manufacturers seem to have no trouble creating legitimate synching tools to allow their devices to sync with iTunes. Why doesn't Palm?

  • Nick, the whole point is that the database hash never had anything to do with FairPlay. FairPlay certificates by definition are carried with the file, not the iTunes database.

    Palm's end run is weird, I agree. I believe the way Nokia and Blackberry pull off sync is by reading the iTunes XML file.

  • Update: I understand from Jaymis that it is possible to sync iPhone to MediaMonkey. This appears to be a hack which, to my knowledge, still relies on last year's database hash trick (the one Apple wanted gagged). It also requires driver files from Apple.

    So, I think there are some gray areas technically right now. A question I have — how robust are these XML file synchronizations? Is that something on which people can depend? What about the MediaMonkey hole — is that something Apple intends to plug, or have they actually given up on "fixing" the hash issue as they hint at in the letter to EFF?

    Anyway, regardless, this is not anywhere close to the standards of interoperability being applied elsewhere. It's Apple's right to modify their software — they have no obligation to do otherwise. But they're hardly setting a high bar for interoperability.

  • eric

    After using iTunes and trying a load of other media players (Foobar, Doubletwist, MediaMonkey, Winamp, Zune Player, WMP, etc) I've come back to iTunes. Just disable what you don't like about it, and don't pirate.

  • bliss

    If a device doesn't sync with iTunes, what prevents users from using a different music service and software that does work with their hardware? As passionate as this article is, it doesn't convince that Apple has a monopoly on anything. Not a thing. It only convinces that Apple has rights and control over its own products and businesses. EFF's correspondence supports this conclusion.

    Also, I agree with Ben. Palm's initial attempts at getting the Pre to sync with iTunes depended on exploiting an iTunes vulnerability. The Pre was not, and never was, a supported device. Though, Palm did advertise it as such; not exactly something to pat them on the back for. Not to mention the fact that it mislead many of the Pre's early adopters. The Pre was recognized by iTunes as an iPod… who here has confused a Palm Pre with an iPod? We know the difference, Palm knows the difference, and Apple knows the difference. That Apple chooses to make it's software detect the difference should not be considered a malicious move. Tenacious, yes. It simply is not true that the Pre's sync with iTunes was disabled. Apple is not the bad guy on this point.

  • Bliss, which part of EFF's correspondence do you feel supports that conclusion?

    Apple specifically moved to block *discussion* of a technology they had designed for the sole purpose of locking people who bought their hardware from using it with other software. It was an abuse of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, and had nothing to do with preventing piracy. They only backed down after called on it by a high-profile lawsuit, and after they determined the code in question (by their own admission) was obsolete and no longer worth defending.

    I'll concede, maybe I shouldn't have brought the Palm Pre example into it, as it's not clear Palm is doing the right thing here. I do think, however, that Apple's motivations can be called into question over the long term, that at the very least, there's no correlation between Apple's interoperability position and their DRM position.

    I'd give Apple credit on interoperability for the media format — an AAC file can indeed be played on a variety of devices. But I'd give them major demerits on access to their mobile devices; iTunes is the only conduit. And given their overwhelming market share in media player devices, in software players, in music sales, in tying these things together, and in mindshare.

    This is cause for concern, because it means that there isn't active competition, and that users may simply not notice competition. So long as that is the case, there's a major disincentive to innovation. I don't think that's a radical idea.

  • eric

    There was a lot of speculation early in the digital music market that Apple was going into the download business (iTunes Music Store) in order to push iPods, and that DRM was the lock and key. I'm not sure things have changed that much to this day.

  • jimmy

    i have always disliked the itunes experience, so reading this made me feel good, especially when most (regular, human) people i rant to about it totally love how itunes "does everything automatically." like, what is point of syncing 80GB of content everytime i dock up? and why would i need a library of all my music in one place on my limited hard drive (a hard drive I need for saving my own music creation files) — isn't that what the ipod and dvds/xterrabyte backups are for? but, again, i'm a freak.

    i used yamipod to drag and drop on any computer i might have available to add an album on the go for the longest time, but i only had issues with it and my new 5G ipod. sharepod looks like the same good idea. free drag and drop. simple.

    but…after losing everything a couple of times and having to reformat (uh, with itunes), as well as planning to get an iphone, i just succumbed to itunes again recently. and, really, after disabling most everything, especially sync, it works ok. not fast or simple, but i can drag and drop from my "library" folder after i tell it to "add to my library". then i back everything up from my local drive. lots of little exclamation point missing file errors, oh well. it's pretty much what i did before, only on my one home machine. and i can add album art easily enough. whoopdedoo.

    learning to love the bomb? yep, but i liked letting go of the anger a bit.

  • J. Phoenix

    Ironically as I was reading this, my girl was installing iTunes to update her credit card info so that her iPod Touch app's would work again.

    It is interesting that at this point people are so used to iTunes, synch'ing iPods & iPhones that lack of interoperability is seen as the device's fault, not Apple's or iTunes.

    On the other hand, almost nobody uses the word "facial tissue" when they want one; they say, "hand me a Kleenex". So I wonder if mindshare concerning sync is as important in the long run.

    One thing that does nag me is that I have been unsuccessful in getting iTunes to add In Rainbows, after multiple attempts. It gives me pause for thought how many independent artists might not be on consumer's iPods or iTunes because of a glitch, and thus locked out of their system.

    On the other hand, I have a persistent belief that closed systems are doomed to be surpassed by something more clever, easier to use, and more open. Someone will always build a better mousetrap.

  • Scotty C

    This is exactly the reason why I haven't owned a Mac/Apple product since the iBook G4. The Apple of six/seven years ago is vastly different from the Apple today. In fact, Steve and company have crafted a corporation that resembles old-school M$ more than M$ does.

    And this is why I own a Cowon D2 – my second one (after I decided to upgrade from a 4g D2 I had for a couple years)- and why I use Amazon when I buy mp3's (again, no DRM). There ARE alternatives to the iPod monopoly.

  • Freddy

    From a sound jam happy user back then, yeah I know, long time :)…

    As I told a friend trying to hack his iPod Touch and getting upset for not being able to do it easily: "you just bought the wrong gear".

    This sounds kind of pystar-ish if you know what I mean, see:

    Everyone complaining about Apple's tight leash on their soft/hardware is missing some points about Apple products original appeal, for example:

    software/hardware integration, meaning less time worrying about crashes, config. errors, outdated drivers, etc.

    user friendliness, sometimes taken to the extreme, I admit.

    You probably are saying "hey, if they want they can do that and be open at the same time", but Apple being a business makes them take some decisions same as any other company, and to enjoy the results of those decisions I have to give up some "freedom", I don't want to? nobody is forcing me buy Apple's stuff, there are other options to get back your freedom, freedom to hack, to save money, to waste or save time, you name it, but you can't have your cake and eat it too.

    Let's face it, thanks to internet we all can get all we want like music, videos, apps and in general digital content for next to nothing, being it free, open source or simply stolen via P2P networks, sharing portals, etc. Same thing on the hardware side, there are plenty of cool websites that show us how to build/hack/clone away almost everything legally or otherwise, just a couple of searches away.

    And we are so used to it, but that does not mean the whole world should/can or want to work the same way.

    Certainly Apple didn't got to the point they are now by giving everything to everyone, don't you think? this gives them the opportunity to lead the way, and to me as a user to get products I like to use, not all of them though *cough* appleTv *cough*… to get my diy/hack/bend fix I look somewhere else 😉

  • boonier

    I used Apples everyday. Have done for many years. But I think I'm going to get an Android phone.

    Apple seem to have adopted a very different business model for the consumers market, than they did for the professional market.

    Someone earlier said that quality declined 7/8 years ago – coincidentally round about the time they started pushing their consumer range.

    The majority of apple products that i've owned during that period have failed (logic boards mainly)

    SO, consequently i'm much less the fanboy and I'm much more open to other platforms.

  • Hey y'all. Never heard of ROCKBOX at

    I'm running 3 operating systems in my 40 gb iPod Photo (Apple's native os, Rockbox and iPod Linux).

    – Apple OS is good for subscriptions to podcasts and the like

    – Rockbox plays flac, ogg, wma… and even NES roms and SuperNintendo chiptunes (from the actual ROM, not the mp3). Good if you're into 8 bit music. It also features some basic pitch control like a dj CD player… not a PaceMaker, but good for experimenting.

    – iPod Linux runs PureData patches (and Duck Hunt!)

    I know it's a nerdy setup, but my mom uses a IPod mini with RockBox dragging and dropping files (like a pendrive) from an Ubuntu box, instead of being tied to iTunes. And I think drap and drop is even easier than using any player.

    Personally I'm more interested in playing various formats instead of syncing. Ah, Rockbox has file admininstration options, so I could copy a whole bunch of files (let's say some Creative Commons netlabel releases) and build a playlist / delete unwanted files / rename files.

    I'm agree with people claiming iTunes does what it has to do easily and quickly, but for some of us, having another choice is important.

    But, seriously, what's the difference between iTunes 6 and iTunes 8 and 9… the Genius? the iTunes DJ? Are they of any use to you?

    @ Dave Ahl

    I agree with you, but:

    You can open Photoshop documents with the excellent cross-platform open source Gimp. I migrated from Adobe's CS3 recently and I'm happy (I didn't needed the CYMK Photoshop tools)

  • Angstrom

    I got an iPhone for the usual music nerd reasons, and was shocked at how bad the iPod/iTunes interfaces are. Sure they look nice enough – but the functionality is awful compared to what I am used to.

    I guess it's that Tonka-Toy simple and indestructible mentality that Apple favour for mainstream users, but I find them extremely limited. Surely they could provide an "advanced" mode for people who need it?

    My music folder is 75 gig of renders and variant mixes, so to sync that I must create a "playlist" of the highlights. Unfortunately if iTunes finds an m3u within an album folder it will add all those songs twice. This means I must add each song manually, individually. Imagine that process. Now imagine 2 weeks later you want to add your new albums and some new renders – how do you check ? How do you sync a "playlist" against updated items in your actual larger library. It's frankly useless.

    I only use iTunes to sync, then I spend an hour deleting doubles, fixing the tags it mangled, etc. I have to keep a written note to myself what is and isn't added to the "playlist" so that I do not re-add anything.

    If I want to play music I use MediaMonkey – I find it massively superior, powerful, simple, excellent.

  • The point where I stop liking the Zune software is when it does things without me telling it to. It sounds like this iTunes "sync" mess can rot in hell as far as I'm concerned 🙂

  • Yeah, I was actually going to bring up Zune — it's the same problem. Ironically, they emulated some of the stuff we *don't* like about the Apple mobiles. And again, it's got nothing to do with DRM. As with Apple FairPlay, Microsoft's DRM scheme attaches rights to the file. There's no reason you shouldn't be able to connect a Zune's media library like the storage device it is.

  • what is really weird to me is people reactions: you can actually speak with a lot of apple users that tell you "well, iTunes does not nag me; it does everything I need. it's just you and your taliban linux stuff".

    I really have to wonder if they really like to use monkey-proof tools that thyrannize their lives, or maybe if the cool-brand propaganda totally zombified their critical sense…

  • bliss

    @Peter Kirn

    I'm referring to EFF's assertion that Apple has the right to put locks on its software.

    Also, I'm not denying or condoning Apple's strong-arm tactics. In that regard, Apple behaves just like any other corporation in America today. EFF filed the appropriate response to Apple's allegations to make Apple go away. Corporations are not in the business of ceding control over anything. It's not surprising that Apple does what it does — it's natural behavior in the marketplace these days. But Apple doesn't control the production, distribution, or availability of music. All Apple controls is its business and its products. And just focusing on distribution, i.e., legal music downloads, we can easily see that Apple has growing competition.

    I don't think I've ever heard charges that Wal-Mart has a monopoly on all lame things labeled "Made In China", but their business model caters to what many people want. So, who can blame Wal-Mart for selling it to them? One can blame Wal-Mart for many things (and I have), but one can't blame Wal-Mart for selling what its customer base wants.

    Likewise, Apple created the iPod, iTunes, the iTunes Store, the iPhone, the Apps Store, and the way that those things should be perceived. That's marketshare and mindshare dominance because people want those things. Given the history of Apple, one would expect Apple to maintain control over all that it invents. Apple does influence the perception of other mobile devices and music distribution products other than its own, but it's simply a benefit that comes with being perceived as a leader in those fields. It's also an advantage that one cannot blame Apple for taking advantage of, because any other company or person would do the same.

  • Downpressor

    What with all the cries of Apple is an evil monopoly I thought I was on boing boing for a minute here. What with all the players, softwares and sales sites discussed in this thread alone, its pretty clear that there is no abuse of monopoly power here.

    BTW I got a real chuckle from that screenshot of Banshee since its such a direct ripoff of iTunes.

  • I can follow Peter here.

    A new music player enters the market, it can sync with 99% of the music players, but not itunes. All critics just assume it can't sync with anything because it doesn't sync with itunes (something which apple makes impossible, as is there good right), and blame it on the music player, not apple.

    This means that apple is in such a dominant position that no one considers any other music management software other than itunes, and that apple uses this dominant position to keep competitors out of the market by not allowing them to sync.

    Apple isn't doing anything illegal though. It's a thin line between a pseudo monopoly and just being big.

    Look at it like this: tomorrow microsoft ships an update in windows that prevents all office applications from running, except microsoft office (which is technically speaking their right to do). How many people will say "all this open office crap, I should just use ms office", instead off "well i could use linux and then I have the choice of running whichever office suite I like without anyone killing it for me on a whimp"

  • Actually, Kyran, you followed my argument exactly. But recall that Microsoft has been and currently is the target of legal actions over just this sort of behavior. Also, there are many things that are not illegal but are not necessarily ethical, either – hence the description of this as an "effective monopoly."

    What happens to the market when no one is willing to consider alternatives? For an illustration, look no further than the Mac. When iTunes 1.0 was released, there was a rich selection of audio players, including Panic's Audion. Today, there's almost nothing. Songbird and Banshee have been ported from other platforms, but I haven't met a single Mac user who uses them, ever. You'll see here there's at least some surviving competition on Windows.

    So, look, I'm not an antitrust lawyer. I can't say what is and isn't legal here. But I think it's hard not to see a level of dominance that has starved out competition, impeded progress, limited consumer choice (even perceived consumer choice), taken pricing out of the hands of artists… I could go on.

    I don't know that there's a lot to be gained by just railing at Apple; that's not my intent. But if you need motivation to seek out and invest time in alternatives, this is pretty darned good motivation.

  • eric

    Apple has deals in place with record labels and independent artists, and for this they act as a middleman. Unfortunately this also may be preventing device interoperability since the Music Store is built into iTunes.

  • I'm a Mac user and a Linux head also, and use VLC as basic player, since I don't use playlist, just folder structures i've been improving since my first music files.

    I know "command line nerd" mentallity is not that popular, but I think that a lot of people used to open winamp (back in Win98 days) and play one file, then close it. You can do the same today. No sync needed.

    I think the big "problem" here is people assuming Media Player = iPod, Music files = 128 kbps mp3's, Media manager = iTunes. It's like people thinking Operating System = Windows. Sadly, most people don't CARE about alternatives, they care about having the stuff their friend/coworker/guy next door has.

    And that goes also for all those tactile interfaces. Just because iPhones have inertia displaying photos do we have see the Samsung Omnia / HTC / Palm Pre as lame iPhone ripoffs? Why not a Johnny Nmemonic / Star Trek NG interface instead of all those animations.

    My point is (like yours):

    Maybe Apple realized that you have to achieve cultural dominance first to be able to reach Market dominance (sorry if my english is not correct in this one). Nowdays blogging equals "guy with glasses typing on a Macbook drinking Starbucks coffee". Don't get me wrong, but (most, not all) people don't care about what or why they use something, they care about how they look using it.

    @ Peter Kirn: my dad uses Songbird on a OS X Panther macbook. He never liked iTunes from day one (?!?) (and he's a MS Office kinda guy). :·)

  • ericdano

    Man, can I use all this "reasoning" to sue to get Xbox games to work on my PS3? I mean, they are both game machines. They both use the cell processor. Why can't I run a copy of whatever game on the Xbox if I have the PS3 game.

  • eric

    ^^Actually the XBOX's processor is based on Intel 'Coppermine' CPU. Cell was jointly developed by Sony, IBM, and Toshiba.

  • jon C

    Peter you said " other vendors could make other devices sync with iTunes, but Apple engineers regular updates to prevent them from doing so"

    I'm not sure this is accurate. I have a Sony Ericsson phone that I sync with iTunes using a third party plug-in called "iTunesmyWalkman". It has not been broken with any iTunes updates. I believe RIM also provides syncing with iTunes. So it is very possible to do if device makes wanted to do it.

    Also I didn't read the Gizmodo review the same way. I read it as why is there not a desktop syncing app, period. Not why doesn't it sync with iTunes.

    I guess I just don't feel locked into itunes at all. If I want to move my music I can do so easily and I can get my music onto other devices fairly easily as well.

  • low resolution sunse

    I hope I didn't come off as an Apple apologist! I don't really think anybody on the consumer end really wants iTunes/iPod/iPhone to be an all-or-nothing proposition. It alienates a lot of potential customers of individual services or devices. I fail to see how that makes business sense. Too much control is never a good thing.

  • Ben

    While I understand the concern, I think the point Kyran and Peter make isn't such an issue. As Jon C mentions, Apple has provided a way for 3rd party manufacturers to sync their devices with itunes. it just requires they code some of their own software. So the only excuse that a new device manufacturer has to not sync with itunes is the lack of development time to write their own sync client.

    Apple goal is to provide a reliable user experience, and their approach to that has pretty much always been to limit 3rd parties involvement in their products. There are some good reasons for this, look at what a failure the Motorola ROKR was.

    It's hard to see internet based businesses as monopolistic these days, don't like itunes or google? type a different address into your browser.

    It's also hard to imagine that Apple is in any way stifling progress, it seems more like they are driving it. There was plenty of competition in the smartphone market pre-iphone (and several mp3 players pre-ipod) but apple is the one out-innovating the industry. From what I can see the open nature of android is hurting it, you have amazing software but hardware manufacturers (that are used to having little to no competition) designing lousy hardware for it.

    It's not anti-competitive practices, it's a lack of quality and attention to detail that is hurting rivals.

  • Hey! Cliché!

    I find it very funny that you guys fail to understand that it isn't up to Apple to support other devices. Apple did a good job creating a media player at the beginning, and creating software to work with it. No matter what your feelings on the software or the hardware are, they created an entire solution. Palm, HTC, and every other smart phone company should do the same. If they care about the user experience so much it would ship with software to sync with whatever the device they sell.

    Unfortunately, unlike Apple, they do not care about the user experience and want to ride the coat tails of a very successful product. Smart phone and PMP companies outside of Apple have dropped the ball, not Apple itself.

  • buenisimo. me encató este informe.

  • Justin

    I think the main reason Mac users don't use Banshee or Songbird is because they don't live up to iTunes. Why bother using either of those if iTunes works just the same, provides the same functionality, and comes preinstalled?

  • eric

    Peter's point was that sometimes it's worthwhile to look for an alternative.

  • JavaJ

    I don't think iTunes is the greatest tool to use for music- but it is the desktop interface that is part of my ipod and iphone. Oh well- that is what it is. I don't care that I can't use another device with it- I bought it knowing I need to use iTunes. It is a gadget- a device- a toaster.

    Move on people- if you don't like it- then pull out your CD's and play it in a CD player.

    How can it be a monopoly when it is simply that most people LOVE the iPod/iPhone (based on the numbers). If they didn't love it- I am sure Apple would change their ways.

  • William

    <cite>In fact, Android sync is supported by a variety of applications. In my tests, it works with the open-source players Songbird (Mac, Windows, Linux), Banshee (Mac, Linux), Rhythmbox (Linux),


    In actual fact the Gizmodo reviewers were right. Droid ironically *doesn't* sync with any of the big open source music apps you listed . The USB codes to make the device recognized didn't get added into the development tree of Banshee until real recently. It's still not part of any official build. Hopefully, the problem won't be an issue in the future, but to say it works for you, when you're using a different device than the one reviewed by Gizmodo is somewhat disingenuous. P.S. Droid doesn't currently sync against Rhythmbox (v0.12.5 on Ubuntu Karmic) either.

  • pronounced chart you've get hold of