At MacWorld ’09, one of Apple’s “big” announcements was that the iTunes music store would be completely DRM free by the end of 2009.
As long as there are no competing hardware innovations from other companies, DRM-free music doesn’t matter one bit.
The majority of people use iTunes because they love their iPod (or iPhone) and not the other way around. The announcement for DRM-free music doesn’t do anything for the normal user, that has a one or two computers and an iPod/iPhone. Amazon has had DRM-free music for quite some time, but Apple hasn’t been any closer to losing their death grip on the digital music industry.
As it currently stands, the player and music store business is a parallel to the wireless phone industry.
Traditionally, wireless carriers would lock you into their service in 4 ways — service contracts, wireless coverage, handset selection and most important, the inability to move your cell phone number to another service provider. Switching carriers meant that you’d lose your phone number, so for years and years, we put up with each carrier’s BS because we didn’t want Mom inadvertantly calling some stranger because you switched to AT&T.
However, after wireless phone number portability came about, wireless carriers lost their biggest leverage over us. With this, came lower prices, shorter contracts and an increasing equality in coverage as they all fought to keep our business. Carriers quickly realized that handset selection could be a big differentiator and became the new reason why customers would stay begrudgingly loyal. This is why AT&T’s exclusive deal with Apple for the iPhone was key to give AT&T Cingular AT&T a significant advantage over Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile. Customeres from other services ran to AT&T not because of their customer service, superior prices, or even their coverage area. It was because they had the iPhone.
Apple’s dominance with the iTunes store is not due to lock in from DRM. It’s because they made kickass elegant devices. Even though it is an expectation today that buying and sync’ing music is easy, back when the iTunes store launched, it was considered icing on the perfect hardware cake. This caused more and more people to flock to the holy temple of Steve Jobs for their music purchasing needs.
Until someone comes around and makes a phone or portable music player that is both better than the Apple products and has a music service that is at least on par in terms of selection and ease of use, DRM-free music is just a marketing bullet that Apple can use to show they’re “open“.