I paid $359 for my iPod touch on March 6, and when it arrived I paid another $20 for the software upgrade that had come out by then. Last month, I paid $10 more to upgrade to the latest version. But after all the money I’ve spent on this iPod, I still don’t own it.
It’s an issue of control. I’m not referring to the fact that I have to send it back because its “Home” button stopped working. That’s a little bit of a bummer, but when the new one comes back all working and shiny and new again, the big bummer will still remain: my iPod is controlled by Apple, through iTunes its government handler. That last $10 upgrade enables iTunes to install third-party applications on my iPod. But even there, I can only decide what not to do with my iPod. It’s still Apple deciding what I can do.
Notice that this iPod I bought isn’t bundled with contract like an iPhone. It’s not locked to a cell carrier, there’s no “West Coast [telephone] network” it could take down, or anything like that. Anything nasty I could do with this iPod I could do with my Macbook at 5 times the speed backed by 20 times the memory. But users can’t do anything shady, or anything cool, without doing it through an application Apple has decided to carry in their store.
My first computers were my dad’s first computers. I learned to program mostly on an Apple /// that worked just fine even though Apple had probably long stopped supporting it. I have fond memories of playing StarBlaze on his TRS-80 Model 100, loaded from a squawky old cassette tape after a few tries. When I was given an eMate 300 by some friends, I was able to try out all kinds of old utilities from a Newton abandonware archive. Will my offspring be able to do the same sort of things with this iPod? Or will the encrypted applications I collect today no longer “authorize” by the time they discover the shiny obelisk in a box somewhere? Will they learn to use an old version of the developer tools and wonder why, if it works on the simulator, it won’t work on the device? Vive the jailbreakers! — immature as they act, I sure hope they’ve left good notes ten years from now. Otherwise, Apple really should just rent these things instead of selling them.
I hate to assume that a worst case DRM scenario will become the status quo, but it has become abundantly clear that Thoughts on Music was just a PR stunt. Apple loves them some DRM, and they’ve turned their top resources to a “revolutionary” new iPhone/iPod platform that has Digital Restriction Management at its center.
This bothers me as a user, and it bothers me as a software developer. It will cost another $99 to actually develop or test anything new on the iPod I bought. I’d gladly pay that, but I can’t. Our company is still waiting to get into Apple’s secret sharecropper society, though I put our info into the queue on day one. Thankfully we didn’t project any revenue from selling iPhone/iPod software — and now we never will, since one lesson we’ve learned from the whole “You don’t talk about iPhone club” mess is to not take for granted income so far out of our control.
If this dystopian ideal of Apple’s comes to their desktop, as some fear, I hope our little company has saved up enough for a few bays in a data center somewhere. Web apps have many huge drawbacks, but so does being a puppet on some big corporate headquarters’ string.