I love gadgets. I like shiny things that do fancy stuff. Technology rocks my socks and I spend much of my free time trawling over various aspects of the internet while listening to music stored in a digital format.
So, who do you think makes the shiniest, fanciest techno-gadgets out there at the moment? I’ll tell you who – Apple. Their current stock of gizmos and widgets look like the ultimate technoporn – wonderfully designed items that just work.
The thing is, prospective Apple purchasers may find themselves having a bitter taste in their mouths.
Columnist Bill Thompson asks whether the time has come for Apple to be put under the EU microscope in the same way as Microsoft has.
Microsoft has taken a lot of flack over the years due to their perceived abuse of their market dominance, and rightly so. Sometime we consumers get a raw deal from these Megacorporations and it’s right that the powers that be look after our interests.
Microsoft are plainly not the only ones giving us poor service though:
Apple […] managed to get acres of coverage for the UK launch of the iPhone, despite the many ways in which the device is closed, locked down and restricted.
Of course the iPhone is a new product with a tiny market share, so there are no issues of dominance, but when it comes to music players and music downloads the situation is very different, and yet it is rarely commented on.
Apple has spent much time trying to ensure that anyone who buys an iPod is completely locked in to an Apple-centred world in which they use iTunes, buy from the iTunes Music Store, and purchase only Apple-certified iPod accessories.
The recent launch of the new range of iPods, including the video Nano and the iPod Touch, has shown just how far Apple is willing to go to make life difficult for its users in order to shore up its dominant position in the market for music players and downloads.
Well, it’s not new news that Apple likes to lock-in iPod users to iTunes. However, this is just the start of the lengths that Apple will go to in order to gain more of your cash.
The iPhone does not allow you to play your own MP3 files as a ring tone. Obviously Apple will happily charge you 99c for downloading a ringtone from a selection available in the online store. False market? I think so, even if there are hacks around for those adventurous enough to try them.
Apple are also creating new hardware restrictions on their new iPods so that only Apple-approved accessories will work. Expect to pay higher prices for cables, docks and widgets.
The biggest problems seem to be reserved for those that really don’t want to use iTunes. Linux users, like myself, can’t even use it as there’s no official version available for fans of the penguin:
[T]he nastiest little change is to the iTunes library itself. iTunes keeps your songs organised using a database, and over the years a number of free and open source music players have been developed that can read and write this database format.
This is important as Apple doesn’t support Linux, so any Linux user who can’t resist the lure of an iPod needs a non-Apple library manager, but it also gives Mac and Windows users a bit of flexibility.
Programmes like gtkpod, Rhythmbox and Banshee are easy to use and don’t try to sell you songs all the time, but now Apple has added a new feature to the iTunes database, a special number which is calculated from your list of files using a process only Apple knows.
If the number is wrong, your library looks empty. And because the free players don’t know the algorithm used, they can no longer be used with iTunes/iPod.
There seems to be no reason for this change except to break the functionality of alternative jukebox software.
So, it looks like they’re deliberately screwing over Linux users and anyone not willing to use iTunes. Does this look like anti-competitive behaviour to you? It certainly appears that way to me, and as Microsoft has already been dragged over the coals for doing similarly dubious things then it may well be high-time for the courts to take a closer look.
The thing is, I desire an iMac. It’s a beautiful machine and it works wonderfully. I also lust after the new iTouch – the most desirable music player on the market.
However, I will not be dictated to. I will not be restricted to where I can play my music. I want to buy those cheaper accessories and I don’t care of they’re not officially badged. I don’t want my music infested with DRM from iTunes and I’m certainly not going to pay a higher price for DRM-free versions when I can just buy the CD cheaper and rip it myself. I won’t be blinded by fancy graphics and sleek designs when the underlying software and hardware are restricting how I use it.
I’ve worked out that a new iMac with some improvements and specifications that I want will set me back nearly £1500. Bugger that. I’ll just buy some new bits for my PC and upgrade. Even if I go for some decent specced gear it’ll be about 1/3rd of the cost.
I chose not to subscribe to Apple’s siren calls, not while they’re implementing restrictive practices like this. I’m staying with Linux.