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Apple — A Tragic Love Story

Apple users are fervent in their love for Steve Jobs’ devices. I’m happy they have technology that works for them – but they’re misguided.
January 4, 2006

UPDATE: I knew the storm was coming when I posted this, but I did it anyway. Possibly I wasn’t clear enough. I’m willing to admit that. However, let me reiterate my point in a very clear way: I’ve got no problem with Apple. I used Apple products until 1999, when I started working at Wired, a PC shop, and began covering digital entertainment, which didn’t really exist on Apple products back then. So – truly folks – I get it. I understand. For loads of people, Apple is what they choose.

The simple point I’m trying to make here: Jobs’ deal with the entertainment industry and its DRM practices are bad for consumers. This isn’t a knock on the iPod (although I really don’t get it). If you love your iPod, by all means, use it in complete happiness and joy. But that doesn’t mean you should be overjoyed by the DRM practices the company has built itself on.  Now – on to the original post.

Let me start this post by saying this: if you like Apple, you are likely going to want to stab me with a fork when you are done reading this. I apologize for that. But since we’re all friends here, I think it’s important that I remind you of a few things.

Okay, now that’s out of the way. As you probably know, MacWorld takes place next week, and I have no doubt that Apple addicts around the planet are so giddy with anticipation that many of them can’t sleep. I also know that no matter how much I try to make this blog sound respectful, I am going to fail miserably because it’s difficult to have a rational discussion with people who are so into anything.

But I completely respect that stance. I would even go so far as to say, I completely understand their stance. I feel that way about The Ohio State University, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Cincinnati Bearcats, and my mother.

However, sometimes, blind faith isn’t enough. And in this particular case, unquestioning faith in all things Steve is a bad idea. (For what it’s worth, this McSweeney’s post should take some of the heat off me, I hope.)

The immediate response I get when I bring this up is always the same: Microsoft is soooo much worse. But I disagree. There is an army of programmers around the world who are developing applications, work-arounds, and other goodies that allow me to circumvent most of the aspects about Microsoft products I don’t like. The coolest thing that I do is record television with my PC, hack the DRM, burn it to a DVD, and take that program with me anywhere. But I know that’s doesn’t even touch the tip of the iceberg.

However, that’s not what really, really sticks in my craw. I reserve that (possibly irrational) anger for the iPod and iTunes, two music products that are so restrictive in their licensing and user set-ups that I have never been able to bring myself to download the software to purchase music through iTunes or pony up the cash to by an iPod.

It’s fairly well publicized that if you have music on your hard drive, music you’ve purchased a license to use through iTunes, and your computer crashes – you lose all of that music. It’s not a common occurrence for sure (at least, I hope it’s not), but when it does happen (as it nearly did to one editor here), your view of Apple suddenly, and dramatically, changes. (This doesn’t even begin to touch on the fact that the iPod was clearly not the first digital music player, and for my tastes, isn’t even the best player – but the Altoids-style packaging has certainly resonated with consumers, which is the bottom line.)

That said, even that restrictive licensing doesn’t ultimately get to me. Every company has the right to set up the terms of use (within reason), and that is the road Apple chose to go down. The problem is they’ve been so compliant with the entertainment industry – foisting ridiculous digital rights management on consumers – that they may very well be setting the table for the music and movie industries to expand their restrictive licensing to entirely new platforms.

Jobs has, by and large, become a proxy for the music and movie industries in the continual eroding of consumer rights in a digital age. And – for everyone who shells out their hard-earned money for the latest and greatest gadget – you’ve all fallen for it.

No, what really gets to me is that I think all of the Apple users around the planet know this already, but simply have stopped caring – and I can’t figure out why. However, I think I may have figured it out, thanks to one unnamed person who said to me: “Yes, but the iPod is so cute.”

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