Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Mimsy Were the Technocrats: As long as we keep talking about it, it’s technology.

iPhone development another FairPlay squeeze play?

Jerry Stratton, June 16, 2007

I finally got around to watching the WWDC keynote tonight. The bit about Safari being the development environment for iPhone is intriguing. Apple has developers clamoring to write software that only works on the iPhone, and Apple is saying “no. Write software that works on any phone, and it will work on the iPhone. No, one better: write software that works in any modern web browser, whether it’s a phone, a PSP, FireFox, or Internet Explorer. Don’t limit yourself to the iPhone.”

That’s not how they worded it but it is the real meaning of what they said, whether they realize it or not.

This is vaguely similar to what Apple did with the iPod: they ensured that the iPod could play MP3s from anybody, but allowed no DRM but their own. The iPod could (and can) play music from any CD or other unrestricted source. Only the iTunes Music Store sold restricted music using the iPod’s FairPlay restriction mechanism, and Apple refused to either license FairPlay (for the most part) or use another restriction mechanism on the iTunes Music Store.

That combination—allowing open standards and discouraging restriction mechanisms—is probably a major reason that the music companies are seriously considering allowing stores to sell music on-line without artificial restrictions. The labels have long complained about Apple’s refusal to either license FairPlay or use somebody else’s restriction mechanism, and if Apple had given in, it is highly unlikely that any major label would have considered selling more consumer-friendly music. But, partially because of Apple’s refusal, the labels are considering selling more consumer-friendly tracks. I now have EMI music without digital restriction mechanisms in my collection. Purchased from the Apple store, stored in iTunes, and playable on my iPod—or any other music player, should I choose to buy one later.

Was this deliberate? Steve Jobs has claimed that they prefer music sold without DRM, because music sells iPods. Apple believes that it will continue to be able to make the most consumer-friendly music players, and that in an open market, the iPod will remain the preferred portable music player (just as it was before on-line music stores were popular). I wrote about this earlier in Apple encourages MP3 distribution?

I have long harbored a secret hope that Apple’s near-absolute refusal to license their Fairplay digital restriction mechanism is a secret squeeze play. It seems designed to force the music industry into selling music without artificial restrictions, just as the industry currently sells CDs today.

Could the same be true of phone apps? Is Apple trying to encourage a developer climate where developers create applications for any portable device, and not create island ecosystems where this app works on that device, and that app works on this device?

The general consensus appears to be that AT&T does not want to allow home-made applications running on their network. This may be true, and this may be all there is to it. But if the iPhone becomes popular, and Apple continues to encourage web standards while discouraging iPhone-only development, we may see web standards become so popular that they are, in fact, standard. We may see web developers finally throw out the crutch of “this site best viewed using…” or worse, “this site does not work with…”.

My current dream is to be able to install Django on an iPhone and build local web apps as I need them.

  1. <- Universal Back Door
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