On the DRM front, Apple’s Steve Jobs published a remarkable open letter yesterday called simply, Thoughts on Music. The article comes at a time when a) Apple is under increasing pressure from European consumer groups to allow ITMS-purchased music to play on unauthorized devices (i.e., other than iPod); b) Microsoft has left its multi-manufacturer system in the dust with the launch of the Zune; and c) there have been reports that the majors themselves have been considering distributing non-protected music.So there’s lots of context in which to fit Jobs’ statement.
I have always thought that Apple’s commitment to DRM of any kind was executed with a pretty obvious wink-and-a-smile. If Apple had been more serious about it, there are all kinds of things that it could have done but didn’t do – things that the Zune has (stupidly) built in to the device that limit what people can do not only with Microsoft-purchased music but all music.
So now Jobs has come right out and said it – if the majors will change their licensing contracts with Apple, Apple would welcome the opportunity to sell unfettered music to its customers.
There has been a lot of commentary on this about the implications of this to the DRM story, but what I find most fascinating is that one of the chief implications of this is that Apple is saying that it believes that the iPod and iTunes and the integration of the two is so superior that it is willing to compete on no other basis. Even more: it’s saying that they already HAVE been competing on that basis (and not just through tie-ing), and no matter who has entered the market, Apple has remained dominant.
This is a pretty remarkable thing, if you think about it. Apple is (and, according to its possibly self-serving numbers, always has) competed and won on interface and integration alone. This marks a new aggressiveness on Apple’s part, a new willingness to not only define but to move markets, and to compete on Apple core values.
What I wonder is how this translates to the PC world, particularly with Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) right around the corner? After all, if the iPod can win on interface and integration alone, could not their still-flagship product? Will this new aggressiveness and confidence spill over to the (more complicated) PC side of things?
PS: I don’t think the European suits are even a small threat to Apple. Even if the consumer groups were to win, they can’t force Apple to unilaterally change their contracts with suppliers (the major labels), so the only result will likely be to force the closure of ITMS in the countries where they are successful.
PPS: I would be surprised if the very reason Apple has been so successful with the iPod is also the reason they will never implement non-DRM downloads alongside others that are encumbered by DRM. To Apple, and I tend to agree, the status of ITMS downloads should be and will remain an all or nothing game – All-DRM or not – to reduce the overall complexity of the system for users.