iTunes Challenged in France

Post ImageA very interesting law that attempts to prevent a digital music store monopoly was passed in France by the lower house of parliament today. I don’t know exactly how these things work, but I think the law still must be considered by the upper house too. In any case, it doesn’t look good for Apple:

French officials said the law is aimed at preventing any single media playing system–Apple’s iTunes or Microsoft’s Windows Media Player, for example–from building a grip on the digital online music retail market.

The new legislation will require that online music retailers such as iTunes provide the software codes that protect copyrighted material–known as digital rights management (DRM)–to allow the conversion from one format to another.

At first glance this might be bad news for Apple and good news for Microsoft. Think a little harder though, and you’ll realize this could potentially be very bad for everyone. I don’t know if opening up the DRM codes is very wise, because it wouild probably make them easier to crack. And if that happens, it won’t be the Napster utopia of years past. Instead, we could be stuck with physical media because the record labels are too afraid to sell content digitally. Bad news for everyone.

I found this comment in the article particularly interesting:

Consumers are prepared to pay twice as much for a song that can freely move between different devices, a recent study of the European Union project Indicare showed.

I find that hard to believe, given that something like 90% of the market is iPods. Do all of the iPod owners also own Windows Media devices? I don’t think so, which makes me wonder where this demand for freely moving songs comes from. It’s not like Apple is price gouging at iTunes (on the contrary, they are fighting against variable song prices).

Read: CNET News.com

Apple introduces leather iPod case

Post ImageI am continually amazed by Steve Jobs and co – its like they get away with murder! They somehow get OS X owners to pay for minor updates, their religious zealots still love them after switching to the enemy (read: Intel), and they announce “fun” products like a leather case for the iPod…for NINETY NINE DOLLARS!

Looks like Apple wants to make sure to own a piece of every sector of the iPod accessory market. In addition to the $349 iPod Hi-Fi, the company also announced its own $99 leather iPod case. Sure, it’s a pretty basic sleeve, and only fits the iPod with video or nano, but if you want an official Apple case with an Apple logo and “iPod” stamped on the front, this is the place to go (though we hear there are some pretty convincing knockoffs available on Canal Street for about $15).

When you can release a product like this for a hundred bucks and have it sell, you really do have power. There are thousands of cheaper options for protecting your beloved iPod (or Apple could make scratchless devices to begin with) yet there will still be people who will pay Apple the money for this over-priced official leather case. It blows my mind.

I guess I am getting ahead of myself, we don’t know how well the leather case is going to sell, but the fact that any sell at all is amazing enough. Jobs must have drugs or chemicals or radio wave emitting devices hidden in his products and packaging to get people so hooked.

Read: Engadget

iBuzz – music activated iPod sex toy!

Post ImageIt’s hard to think of a device that has spawned as many third party accessories as the iPod. And when you consider that Apple isn’t known for being open or willing to make things easier on partners, the huge pool of gear is even more amazing. The iBuzz from Love Labs is the most interesting accessory I have seen in a while though (hat tip: Podcasting News):

Steve Jobs, we salute you! iBuzz USA celebrates your birthday with the launch of the iBuzz music-activated vibrator in the US.

We love the iPod and we love it even more when an iBuzz is attached.

And Steve, don’t forget to check your mail on your birthday for a surprise from us!

iBuzz is the musical orgasm machine! The music-activated vibrating bullet stimulates you in time with your favourite music. Which song pushes your butttons?

I can’t be sure, but everything looks legit. Too bad they didn’t have this out for Valentine’s Day, I am sure they would have attracted quite a bit of traffic! Apparently the device has a “bullet” that vibrates in time with the music and gets stronger as the volume goes up. And now I am going to end this post, because just the thought of someone getting off to William Hung is too much for me.

Read: iBuzz

NHL coming to iTunes?

Post ImageEarlier I mentioned that Apple would be making SNL skits available via iTunes for customers to download to their video iPods – but that’s not the only iTunes news of the day! Apparently the NHL is close to reaching a deal to offer video via Apple as well:

According to Sports Business Journal The NHL is very close to reaching agreements with Apple Computer Inc. for video downloading. “It would be fair to say we are close,” said Doug Perlman, NHL executive vice president of media.

Considering the NHL lost many of its American viewers with last year’s strike, this can only be seen as good news for the league. I wonder if they would offer entire games, or just highlights or something?

Read: Kukla’s Korner

Apple to sell SNL skits

Post ImageMacworld took centre stage in the world of technology today, so don’t be surprised if you see a lot of Apple-related items as you scan the headlines. One announcement that I found quite interesting is that Apple intends to sell Saturday Night Live skits through iTunes:

Apple is set to announce today that it will sell a limited number of archived “Saturday Night” skits through its iTunes Music Store for $1.99 each, for viewing on video iPods or personal computers.

The offering is the latest expansion of Apple’s iTunes video library, which includes content from television networks including NBC and ABC.

Seems to me this is an excellent idea; it’s exactly the sort of content most people will want to have on a portable device. There’s a theory that the coming battle between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD for the successor to DVDs will be meaningless, because content will be downloaded instead of purchased on physical media by the time all is said and done. I tend to think the theory holds some merit, and announcements like this one from Apple only make it even more likely. Already consumers download a lot of stuff and not just on the computer – take for example movies on satellite or digital cable.

Imagine if we had wireless everywhere! You could be walking to work or school or wherever, and get a notification that a new SNL skit is available for download. You simply say yes (and your credit card is charged), and pretty soon you’ve got a new video to watch! It’s powerful stuff.

Read: NYTimes.com

Another Reason Why Apple Sucks

Post ImageThere are many reasons to love Apple, and yet many more to hate them too. An article I came across today falls into the latter category (and actually, I noticed this at the Portable Media Expo over the weekend):

iPodder Lemon was a free application distributed under the General Public License, or GPL, that allows users to manage their podcasts–audio and video programs downloaded from the Internet to an MP3 player.

The application’s developers say Apple’s legal team asked the open-source group to drop the name of the software because it suggested a connection to the company’s flagship iPod device. The developers have changed the name of the product to Juice.

What is happening here? Apple is not protecting their intellectual property. I don’t believe the average user would confuse the iPod with iPodder Lemon. I also think that iPodder Lemon probably contributed to some sales of the iPod, in fact helping Apple. What’s happening here is that Apple is using their big-company muscle to try and own the idea of “podcasting” in the minds of consumers. Anything related to the iPod, they seem to want to control.

There is a fine line between protecting your trademarks and brands, and bullying applications, devices and services that are part of your ecosystem. I think Apple crossed the line this time! In any case, Juice will continue to be a great application I’m sure, despite the name change setback.

Read: CNET News.com

Podcasting to benefit from MP3 player growth

Post ImageI came across an article on CNET News.com today which cites an IDC report and proclaims that shipments of MP3 players are expected to hit 124 million units in 2009. That’s an incredible 370 percent increase from the 26.4 million units that were shipped worldwide last year. Podcasting is surely going to benefit from the surge in mobile devices, and it may become an even richer experience too:

The report also explored the revenue potential of three other portable devices that play back compressed audio: DVD players, mobile phones such as the Motorola Rokr and gaming devices such as Sony’s PSP. This category of “other” portable play-back devices is expected to exceed 700 million units shipped with an estimated $114 billion in revenue in 2009, IDC said.

Combined with the MP3 player category, all compressed audio players are expected to reach 945.5 million units shipped and $145.4 billion in revenue worldwide by 2009.

Combined with new devices that also support video, such as the new video iPod, the potential market for both audio and video podcasting is huge. I don’t know the numbers, but I would expect a large majority of podcasts today are simply played on the computer, not on a mobile device. As more people acquire these devices, and as the devices themselves become easier to use and update (like wireless transfers of audio files, support in all major automobiles) I think that trend will change. More and more people will listen on the go. The main potential problem that I would predict is poor battery life – it needs to drastically improve from where we are today.

It will be exciting to watch podcasting grow in the coming years! So far 2005 has been a big year for podcasting, but I am certain the best is yet to come.

Read: CNET News.com

Video iPod Released

Post ImageAt long last it has happened. The oft-rumored and much ballyhooed video iPod was unveiled by Apple’s Steve Jobs today along with a new iMac and an updated iTunes that includes music videos, movies and TV shows:

The iPod has “been a huge hit for us, so it’s time to replace it,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said as he showed off the new video-capable MP3 player at an event here. “Yes, it does video.”

The music players, which come in black or white with a 2.5-inch screen, will be available in a 30GB model for $299 and a 60GB version for $399. The new devices hold up to 15,000 songs, 25,000 photos or more than 150 hours of video, Apple said.

Pay attention to the media coverage this device will get in the coming weeks. What’s significant is not that Apple has released a video version of the iPod, but that no one seems to care about the Portable Media Centers that have been out for months from companies like Creative. Seems as though Apple can do no wrong!

Perhaps Microsoft and Real set aside their differences for the simple reason that they can’t beat Apple if they are trying to beat each other. It has been suggested that Apple and Google would make good partners in the fight against Microsoft (and now Real perhaps). I don’t think they would, for the simple reason that Steve Jobs never releases anything into beta!

Even though the video iPod has been a long time in the making, I have to admit I am still somewhat surprised. Given the recent bickering between Jobs and the record label executives, I expected it to be harder for Apple to add movies and music videos to their iTunes store. On the other hand, Jobs is much more powerful in Hollywood (Pixar, etc) than he is in the eyes of the RIAA.

The Apple domination of media continues…

Read: CNET News.com

Bronfman on Apple and Music

Post ImageWarner Music Group CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. has publicly responded to the comments made by Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs last week. Jobs called the record labels “greedy” and pledged to keep iTunes prices at 99 cents. Mr. Bronfman made it clear he disagrees:

He called Apple’s across-the-board $0.99-per-song charge unfair.

“There’s no content that I know of that does not have variable pricing,” said Mr. Bronfman at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia investor conference. “Not all songs are created equal—not all time periods are created equal. We want, and will insist upon having, variable pricing.”

I actually agree with Mr. Bronfman on that point; I think there should be variable pricing. What I don’t think he’d agree with is a maximum price, and no minimum price. Just as some songs are worth more than 99 cents, some are worth less and so consumers shouldn’t have to pay a premium for them. I also don’t think any song should cost more than $2.49 – if you have a CD with only one good song, that’s a fair price I’d say. Most consumers don’t want to buy an entire album, just the songs they like – a model that the record industry is clearly not used to. I like to have an entire album, and the record labels prefer me to purchase an entire album, so I think if variable pricing actually comes to pass, there should be big discounts for users who purchase an entire album.

I disagree with Mr. Bronfman on the following point though:

“We are selling our songs through iPod, but we don’t have a share of iPod’s revenue,” he said. “We want to share in those revenue streams. We have to get out of the mindset that our content has promotional value only.

“We have to keep thinking how we are going to monetize our product for our shareholders,” added Mr. Bronfman. “We are the arms supplier in the device wars between Samsung, Sony, Apple, and others.”

Um, no. The record labels sell their songs through iTunes, not through the iPod. There’s no way they should get a cut of iPod sales. And to say they are the arms supplier? Hardly! People don’t buy an iPod over a Sony player because of the music. Wake up and smell the coffee Edgar!

Read: Red Herring

iPod Nano Reviews

Post ImageOf course, one of the bigger announcements over the last week was the unveiling of the latest member of the iPod family, affectionately named “Nano”. Engadget today posted a “review roundup“, so that you can better make a decision on whether or not to buy one:

You probably already have a pretty good idea by now whether or not you’re going to break down and spring for an iPod nano, but on the off-chance that you haven’t made up your mind yet we figured we’d throw together a roundup of reviews. Most are, well, rather gushing, but if you dig around you’ll find a few valid criticisms, like that Apple was forced to put the headphone jack at the bottom of the player to make room for the display up top.

The device does look pretty damn cool, but a couple things bother me. One is that note about the headphone jack being at the bottom – it would be so much cooler if the Nano featured bluetooth and just connected wirelessly to a pair of headphones. Another thing is the battery life. iPod’s aren’t known for their impressive battery life, and the Nano claims to get only 14 hours. My 20 GB Zen Touch can run for days without getting charged, and it often does as I use it my car, granted it is quite a bit larger.

Read: Engadget