Sniffen Packets

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Apple's real iPod and iTMS lock-in

Apple’s god-king recently announced that he’d be happy to sell music without DRM. I even sort-of believe him. That is, I believe he’s not delighted to be a sell-out, and would rather do business in a Whole Earth-friendly way than otherwise… as long as both are massively profitable.

Ed Felten at Princeton followed up with his own note on the furor. I think he misses a point, though. Jobs wrote:

Some have argued that once a consumer purchases a body of music from one of the proprietary music stores, they are forever locked into only using music players from that one company. Or, if they buy a specific player, they are locked into buying music only from that company’s music store. Is this true? Let’s look at the data for iPods and the iTunes store—they are the industry’s most popular products and we have accurate data for them. Through the end of 2006, customers purchased a total of 90 million iPods and 2 billion songs from the iTunes store. On average, that’s 22 songs purchased from the iTunes store for each iPod ever sold.

Today’s most popular iPod holds 1000 songs, and research tells us that the average iPod is nearly full. This means that only 22 out of 1000 songs, or under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM. The remaining 97% of the music is unprotected and playable on any player that can play the open formats. Its hard to believe that just 3% of the music on the average iPod is enough to lock users into buying only iPods in the future. And since 97% of the music on the average iPod was not purchased from the iTunes store, iPod users are clearly not locked into the iTunes store to acquire their music.

But he’s trying to slip something by you. Even if Apple strips out DRM and ceases to hold a monopoly on players-of-FairPlay-music, they’ll still have the only convenient HW player for AAC. AAC may be an open standard, but outside of Apple and some weird Archos gear, you don’t see it at the BestBuy.