My article on Apple’s attempt to lock users into their music ecosystem has attracted the sort of comment you might expect from the Apple fans out there, most notably someone who glories in the name of Daniel Eran Dilger, apparently a ‘tech consultant and writer in San Francisco, California. I ride a motorcycle and I like to work on art projects’. Sounds peachy.
He blogs at ‘roughlydrafted’, and his rant and the comments are here, but I’ve reproduced the whole thing here with my notes – he doesn’t need the hits, I’m sure.
Will Apple Fall from the Tree?
The rules on competition should apply to everyone, argues Bill Thompson
The BBC has joined the London tabloid press in printing a series of articles skewering Apple over invented suppositions based entirely upon misinformed speculation and some outright lies. The worst part is that the BBC is being grossly hypocritical in its misinformation campaign against Apple, because the company is up to its eyeballs in the Microsoft-encrusted scandal surrounding its proprietary, Windows-only iPlayer imbroglio.
Bill says: BBC News, for whom I write a weekly column as a freelance, has no direct involvement with the iPlayer, has covered the controversy over the Windows-only release of the iPlayer beta extensively, and has no interest in distracting attention from Microsoft’s problems. On Monday I did two radio interviews and a TV interview on the appeal outcome and every BBC news programme I saw or heard featured it extensively.
[UK Tabloids Pick Up Zoon Awards for Technical Incompetence]
Beyond Spin: Bill Thompson Wades Through BBC Hypocrisy to Spread False Information.
It’s bad enough that the BBC needs to bend facts to support fear, uncertainty and doubt about the iPhone. Now consider that the BBC–as a public corporation funded by British TV license taxes–is building its web video strategy on failed, proprietary technology propped up by an internationally convicted monopolist. At the same time, its publishing a uninformed rant based on speculation and conjecture that accuses Apple of doing things that approach the gravity of its own activities.
This hypocrisy slows from the words of Bill Thompson, who followed the crowd in reporting that Microsoft’s failed appeal in its EU monopoly case says less about Microsoft’s established, anticompetitive practices spanning the last thirty years than it does about Apple’s iPod popularity over the last five.
Bill says: I think you need to re-read the article: Microsoft’s lost appeal says everything about their appalling and indefensible business practices, but my point is that just because Microsoft is bad and being justly criticised for it doesn’t mean we should give other companies an easy ride,
Thompson weeps for Microsoft because “its every move is examined for evidence that it might be making life difficult for its rivals,” while noting that “some of its competitors seem to get a very easy ride.” One might expect the BBC to make excuses for the crimes of its iPlayer partner as it giggly walks lockstep with Microsoft in using the company’s proprietary and Windows-only DRM for video distribution of its publicly funded content.
Bill says: where, in anything that I’ve written, have I made excuses for Microsoft? They don’t invite me to press events, their PR doesn’t talk to me and I’ve had phone calls from senior product managers telling me how disappointed they are in my coverage. If there was the same sort of pro-mIcrosoft coverage as we see around Apple I’d be a main target there too. I will criticise anyone if I see evidence that they are doing something that merits it.
[BBC’s iPlayer’s Prospects Looking Bleak – Slashdot]
Thompson’s Specious Attack on Apple.
“The best example of this [easy ride] is Apple,” Thompson announced, because the company got so much coverage for the iPhone despite it being “closed, locked down and restricted.”
Actually that’s not a good example at all, because Apple doesn’t have a market monopoly in mobiles. Apple has also never been convicted of monopolistic behaviors in the UK, the EU, or the US because it doesn’t have a monopoly and doesn’t act to stop competition the way Microsoft has.
Thompson admits that the iPhone doesn’t leverage monopoly control among mobiles, but says “the situation is very different” in the area of music players and music downloads. What is this very different situation?
Bill says: thank you. Unlike some other commentators on the article you’ve noticed that I’m not suggesting any action around the iPod – though I will be saddened when Apple break the third-party apps as I think it will show, yet again, a lack of concern for users.
“Apple has spent much time trying to ensure that anyone who buys an iPod is completely locked in to an Apple-centred world,” Thompson wrote, “in which they use iTunes, buy from the iTunes Music Store, purchase only Apple-certified iPod accessories and, ideally, abandon their plans to migrate from Windows XP to Vista and instead purchase a shiny new iMac.”
Yes, Apple does want to sell Macs and serve its customers. However, it’s simply a lie to say that iPod users are “locked into” anything, let alone being harmed by not being able to migrate to Vista, which Apple actually supports on the iPod and iTunes.
Bill says: this depends on how you see lock-in: if I can’t play music I buy from iTMS, something I’m encouraged to do at many points in my use of iTunes, on any other player, or use any other jukebox than ITunes with my iPod, then once I’ve made my initial choice to have an iPod I am in an Apple ecoystem that I can only extract myself from with some effort. It’s not absolute – IBM mainframe users also had a choice back in the 70’s. It just wasn’t a realistic chouce.
•Users are not locked into iTunes Music Store purchases; recall that the wags like to point out that a tiny minority of the music on iPods is purchased from iTunes and the vast majority comes from ripped CDs. Purchased tracks from iTunes can also be effortlessly burned to CD for use other other players, following the most liberal and open fair use rights in the industry. Thompson simply lied.
Bill says: I don’t like being accused of being a liar, and that sort of comment undermines any other points you may be trying to make.
•Saying that iPod users are locked into Apple-certified iPod accessories is also not true at all. Apple tries to earn licensing revenue from putting a “made for iPod” logo on devices in the same way Nintendo puts its “seal of approval” on its games, but anyone can deliver iPod accessories, and there’s no way for Apple to stop headphones and boomboxes from working with the iPod. Thompson lied again.
Bill says: A standard 3mm jack is all very well, but the dock is different, as you know. And Apple has made the headphone socket on the iPhone incompatible with standard headphones. Accessories are more than just audio out, anyway – control, video and input all require more specialist access.
•His first idea was that iPod users are locked into iTunes. Yes, Apple sets up a system that’s easy to use out of the box, but users aren’t forced to use it. The iPod can be used with a variety of other applications, or even wiped clean and used with completely alternative firmware like RockBox. Again, Thompson just lied.
[Time for Apple to face the music? – BBC NEWS]
Thompson Lies Some More: Ringtones.
In order to jump from lying about the iPod with generalities and get into specifics, Thompson announced, “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.”
He backed up his claim by browsing for some sensationalist headlines, doing zero fact checking, and then printing his findings with an enraptured spin that is simply shameful hypocrisy coming from anyone working for the BBC.
First, Thompson complains, Apple now sells ringtones and doesn’t support homebrew attempts to copy ringtones to the iPhone. Yes, this is unfortunate. Users shouldn’t face limitations from using their own song clips, and they shouldn’t have to pay extra to carve out a ringtone from songs they purchased or already own.
Bill says: I’m sorry – you admit the accuracy of what I have discovered, admit it’s unfortunate and then defend it. So where’s my ‘hypocrisy’ when I’m telling people the truth? And how am I lying about ringtoes?
However, this isn’t entirely Apple’s decision because it has to answer to the labels. It’s not illegal, and it has nothing to do with anticompetitive monopoly dominance of the music industry.
Bill says: not so. Making your own ringtones is legal under US law. Apple decided to do this.
It’s really the opposite: an opportunity for rivals to compete against the iPhone by offering a nicer way to play “My Humps” when their phones ring. So far, the US ringtone industry revolves around $2.50 – $3.00 clips that expire after several months. Thompson lied with a half story and a false premise that do nothing to support the idea that Apple has a monopoly.
Bill says: breathtaking, Apple clamps down so that’s an opportunity. Why didn’t you call Microsoft’s lawyers and suggest this defence over Windows Media Player bundling? Making WMP the default is a way of encouraging our competitors to do an even better job… it might have convinced the judges.
[Apple’s iTunes Ringtones and the Complex World of Copyright Law]
Thompsons Lies Some More: Video Output.
His second proof that Apple is “shoring up its dominant position” is that “it seems that the new generation of iPods will not output video through cables or docks that aren’t Apple authorized and have a specific ‘authentication’ chip.”
It seems? Why doesn’t Thompson point out that he read some high pitched conspiracy theory about why older cables and docks don’t work with the new models, and is presenting it as a proof of anticompetitive, monopolist behavior without even checking the claim out?
Bill says: I’m not presenting it a ‘proof’ – I’m outlining a pattern of behaviour leading to my main point about the iTunes DB. You need to concentrate more.
The reality is that all the new iPods continue to support the same docks as they did, but their video output has changed due to using different hardware. The Nano and Classic continue to work with old docks and cables, while the Touch and the iPhone will require a new dock connector cable because they now output both composite and component video. They work differently; no conspiracy, no spy authentication chips.
The iPhone and the latest generation of iPods will work via a dock connector cable without a dock unit, so there’s no chip involved. Even if there were, it would not be illegal for Apple to sell proprietary cables such as those that come with the Xbox, the Zune, the Palm Pilot, and most every music player and mobile phone on the market. The only difference is that Apple has kept its dock connector the same over the last several years so that iPod customers can reuse their old cables.
Bill says: I’m not talking about illegal activity – I’m talking about the potential for abuse of a monopoly position by Apple, and evidence indicating that they are not averse to this. Changes to products and innovation are to be welcomed but just as I can go into Game and buy a cheaper third party Xbox cable or controller that has not been authorised by Microsoft so I expect to be able to buy less expensive iPod accessories and if I can’t then I see an indication of an attitude towards the market that worries me.
Even if Thompson doesn’t understand the issues and didn’t bother to look into it, presenting false information as facts to support an idea that they do not support is still a lie.
Bill says: I’m getting tired of this ‘lie’ trope.
[An in-depth iPod Touch review: Video output differences – AppleInsider]
Thompsons Lies Some More: Linux Music Management.
“The nastiest little change is to the iTunes library itself,” Thompson wrote. Apple made minor changes to the metadata database used on the iPod. When this change broke unauthorized music management software, some Linux advocates announced press releases saying Apple was persecuting them and trampling their rights to use the iPod. It turned out that the outcry was simply overwrought, and that a fix was easy to deliver.
Bill says: unauthorised… hmmm…
What Apple had really done was improve how the iPod stores its data so that it would be less susceptible to file corruption. Apple doesn’t officially support the small minority of people who use the iPod with Linux or alternatives to iTunes on other platforms, so it bears no accountability for fixing their homebrew software when it makes changes to its products.
It might be valid to complain that Apple should offer such support, but ignoring Linux has no relationship to establishing a monopoly or market dominance. If Apple was offering a locked in, anti-consumer product, it wouldn’t have open source users buying its product in the first place. Unlike the Xbox and Zune, Apple doesn’t stop users from installing Linux or RockBox on their iPods, a difference Thompson can’t seem to grasp.
Thompson admitted that Apple “will not limit copying or restrict attempts to strip digital rights management code from tracks” and “will not stop people adding non-DRM files they have downloaded from the internet to their library,” but then jumped at the opportunity to speculate that Apple is shutting out Linux users, as if Apple would prefer Linux users to either install Windows or buy a music player elsewhere. Which scenario helps Apple “maintain music dominance?” It’s an inane argument.
Bill says: well, no – it’s a good argument because these small minorities could become a majority if some inventive programmer finds a cool way of coding a music jukebox that is as superior to iTunes as Firefox is to IE – I suspect you like Firefox, though you may be a hardcore Safari user in case Steve finds out – but Apple’s strategy makes this less likely.
Irresponsible Open Source Mouths.
Remember when the EFF irresponsibly announced its speculation that Apple was stuffing megabytes of personal information into iTunes tracks? It later recanted, but didn’t apologize for the false accusation.
The fact that open source advocates are quick to fire out accusations but commonly shrug off any accountability for what they say makes their comments very hard to take seriously. Thompson’s uncritical, uninformed parroting of such accusations is not only stomach churning, but egregious given the BBC’s wholehearted support for a video distribution system that unilaterally forces people to use Windows to access content that is not available elsewhere, as iTunes music is.
Bill says: I’m accountable, open to debate and willing to engage. I rarely call those who disagree with me liars, too. And again, there is no connection between iPlayer debate and criiticism of Apple, and to bring them together is specious and misleading. It does not help your argument against my case, just makes you look like a ranting pro-apple zealot looking for any reason to defend the indefensible.
Thompson keeps going, castigating Apple for stopping Real from selling its own flavor of DRM that promised support for the iPod, and impugning Apple for supposedly having “business practices do not stand up to scrutiny.” Thompson added, “when it comes to music downloads it [Apple] is just as bad as Microsoft on servers.”
Bill says: he behaviour towards Real was appalling and remains indefensible. They broke Harmony because they could and because they wanted to lock competitors out – what other spin can you put on it?
Oh really? Do you have to pay Apple client access licenses for the right to connect your iPod to iTunes or to access the Music Store? Does your music die after three plays or three days? Do you have no choice in the market for MP3 players apart from devices that run the iPod firmware or use Apple’s iTunes software? Equating Apple with Microsoft would be foolish for anyone to do, let alone some misinformed, generalizing, sensationalist wag writing for a public corporation that ties its video downloads to Microsoft’s Windows-only DRM.
Thompson’s Faulty Conclusion to a Shoddy Article.
The great model of interoperability, Thompson points out, is Microsoft’s PowerPoint. That’s because Apple was able to deliver Keynote with PowerPoint compatibility. “Apple can sell Keynote because it took PowerPoint apart and figured out how the files work,” Thompson explained.
Perhaps Thompson doesn’t get it: Apple’s ability to maintain compatibility with PowerPoint is just as tenuous as Linux users’ ability to make iTunes-compatible song management software for the iPod. Microsoft doesn’t support standards in PowerPoint. It uses a crufty, weird, undocumented, proprietary format that changes with every release.
That’s why the industry is aligning behind Open Document as an international standard, and why Microsoft stuffed ballots in Cuba, Azerbaijan, and Sweden to fast track the establishment of its own proprietary formats as a false “standard” without having to answer the concerns of worldwide standards organizations who overwhelmingly determined that Microsoft’s OOXML format was problematic and technically inferior.
Oblivious to all this, Thompson announced, “had Apple been unable to do so [reverse engineer the proprietary PowerPoint format], or found that every time it figured out what was happening Microsoft changed the format, it would have complained loudly.” Apparently Thompson has been paying no attention to technology over the last two decades as the world community has complained about Microsoft’s doing just that.
Bill says: a good point – I should have made it clearer that there’s an ongoing battle over document formats.
[Office Wars 3 – How Microsoft Got Its Office Monopoly]
[Office Wars 4 – Microsoft’s Assault on Lotus, IBM]
[Myth 4: The iTunes Monopoly Myth]
The reason Microsoft was on trial in the EU dates back to complaints filed in 1998. The independent US monopoly trial followed up on earlier complaints from the FTC and Department of Justice. Similar complaints haven’t ever been filed about Apple’s iPod business, but rather only about the arcane, territorial pricing of music established by the big labels, most of whom are owned and managed by European companies.
Bill says: But they will. Neelie Kroes has the courts to back her now.
The EU certainly should fix the problems of the music business in its countries, and demand fair use provisions from music and media providers. However, trying to spin the complex situation off as proof that Apple is anything like Microsoft is not only disingenuous, it’s an outright lie. Using a bunch of half-baked, ignorant web rumors to support a position that Apple should just allow anything and everything is also dishonest.
Bill says: that’s not what I said, and you know it. I want Apple to play fair (get the joke?), to be open about interfaces and file structures and to compete in an open market for music players and jukeboxes, because I actually think we will all benefit and even Apple will end up making better, sharper products and making more money.
Doing all of this speciously false complaining while standing on the Microsoft-enamored soapbox of the BBC just makes Thompson look even more incompetent and clueless about the reality around him.
Bill says: ouch. that hurts. Actually, it doesn’t hurt at all – it’s part of the fun of being a writer and commentator, of trying to open up discussions and infuence people’s thinking. I try to get it right, I sometimes fall down – on this one, I think I’m sound.