Thursday, August 27, 2009

iPhone: Intentionally Crippled Technology

After over 7 years of loyal service, our home computer has finally failed this weekend, which means it's time to buy a new one. I was long expecting this, but was hoping the computer would make it 'till October when the new Windows 7 operating system is due to come out. I don't want to buy a much maligned Windows Vista based computer when a new operating systems is less than 2 months away from release. Don't talk to me about Apple, it's not an option (if you ask I'll tell you why, but this is a good overview of the answer). In the mean time, we'll try to make do with an OLD laptop computer we had lying around the house, and my own work laptop.

Switching computers is a major hassle. Never mind the fact that you have to re-install all your old software and set-up your preferences. The real problem is dealing with intentionally crippled technology. Case in point, my iPhone. I love that phone. It's the best I ever had, but it has been intentionally crippled by Apple - probably to comply with insane copyright owners.

So here's my dilemma. My contacts and calendar are safe, because those sync directly to my company's exchange server. The problem is with all my legitimately purchased and paid for content. My 1000 songs. My dozens of applications. These are all stuck on my old (now dead) computer. No, they are not lost. I have multiple, redundant back-ups. The problem is that when trying to sync my phone to the newly downloaded copy of iTunes on my work machine, Apple wants to delete all the content that's already on my iPhone. I now have to go through an annoying and time consuming process to try to get my honestly purchased content, ONTO MY OWN GODDAMN PHONE, just because my computer died.

How insane is that??? It's like your car died and all the CDs you kept in your vehicle stopped functioning in all other CD players.

The technology and content industries have been abusing consumers for decades. This problem is not unique to iPhone. DVD players are intentionally crippled so that they can only play content purchased in certain parts of the world. When someone in Israel gives me a gift DVD, a normally purchased, un-cracked DVD player in the US cannot play it. All so that the film studios can price discriminate between different regions of the world (BTW, how is this not an anti-trust issue?). Ever tried to skip the stupid copyright warnings at the beginning of a movie? You can't. You're a hostage to the content companies. When my work computer died last year, and I tried to re-install some of my business software, some of it wouldn't function until I called the company (Business Objects) and they "allowed" me to operate my $1,000 piece of software on a new machine. And it's getting worse - just last month Amazon remotely deleted validly purchased content from their customers' Kindle readers. Someone compared this to Barnes&Noble sneaking into your living room to steal back a book they weren't supposed to sell you.

These people are treating us all like criminals. It is insane and it has to stop.

I am tired of having to fight my gadgets to do what they are supposed to do in the first place. I paid good money for these things, and I demand that they function the way the should.

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Ren said...

Yes, not being able to freely copy your media where you want is very annoying. Thankfully, Apple resisted efforts to support Microsoft's WMA encoding and eventually pushed to allow DRM-free music. Thus, you can easily copy your music to your new computer. I am not sure that iTunes will not simply copy the DRM-free music from your iPhone; I'm no expert, so for all I know, it could do that. (You may want to read more about the WMA issue and the move to DRM-free music at Roughly Drafted.)

Now, if you want to not have the issue with syncing your iPhone to the new computer, you could simply enable the "manually manage music" option in iTunes. It is only when you are keeping it in sync that you run into the problem.

By the way, I read through the link you posted that was supposedly an answer for not getting a Mac, but it didn't seem to address that at all. Your choice. For what it's worth, I understand that Apple provides pretty nice tools for moving your programs and data over from your old system. However, I've not used those tools myself. Also, I have no idea how well they work for pulling these things from the hard drive of a dead system rather than from a running system.

Back to your main point, though, which I interpret to be the undue control that content owners have over content users. I've long thought that a content owner should be forced to choose between copyright protection and technical protection. The privilege of copyright protection needs to be accompanied by some concessions, such as making a non-protected version of the content available for the future when the copyright expires (in case the content owner no longer has the non-protected version at that time), and not unduly preventing fair use.

If, instead, the content owner wants to use technical means to protect the content, they are free to do so. But if that technique blocks definitely fair uses of the content, then they should no longer have the privilege of copyright protection.

stephane said...

I am software engineer and reinstall my OS several times a years , what you are talking about was driving me nuts. I lost of paid content from napster (the legal version) and itunes

You can always burn to a cd and rerip but that'a big pain and you loose metadata.
I found a great solution: TuneClone , it basically simulates a CD burn - and frees your content !

Shadox said...

Ren - my point re Apple is that these guys run a closed system. If they had won the war for control of the operating system vs. Microsoft, we'd all be living under Steve Job's left thumb. Say what you will about Microsoft, at least they let other people build applications for Windows without censorship a-la iPhone App store.

Staphane - my data is safe. It's all on my home server (and 2 other independent back-ups - what can I say, I am paranoid about my data). The problem is the hassle of making sure the right data is on the right machine, making sure that machines are "authorized" and generally dealing with DRM crap.

Ren said...

I do not think comparing the iPhone with Windows is fair. After all, Apple doesn't censor apps for the Mac and Microsoft does censor apps for the XBox.

Apple's reasons for the iPhone being a restricted platform are pretty clear, whether or not we agree with them. I wouldn't consider those reasons to be particularly nefarious, with the exception of their decision to block apps that they deem to conflict with the core apps. I suspect we will see a lessening of the restrictions as time passes. In fact, that has already happened (ex. when Apple changed their policy and started allowing the "fart" apps).

My point, however, was that I don't understand what this has to do with deciding not to get a Mac. There are plenty of reasons not to get a Mac, but this one seems very odd. This seems like a reasonable argument for not getting an iPhone, but you've already done that (though perhaps you regret it?).

DRM sucks, on that we can agree. :-)

June S. said...

Here is another story written by a blogger who shares similar frustration as you do re: bullying corporations.

Its a long read, but it is extremely funny and satisfying.