Apple Blocking iTunes Competition for iPhone?

Rivals of Apple's iTunes store and technology rights groups are speaking out. They believe Apple may be unfairly blocking rival software makers from selling music on the iPhone and new iPod Touch. Currently, four out of every five songs purchased on the Internet come from the iTunes store, according to a release from Reuters. This statistic becomes ever more important as digital downloads become increasingly popular. In fact, last month, for the first time digital sales surpassed CD sales.

This popularity is largely in due to Apple's ability to produce and market innovative products. Today the iPod is the standard from which other digital music players are compared. Yet, the iPod is only one aspect of Apple's trifecta in the world of digital music. There is also iTunes software to manage the music, as well as the iTunes store for music sales. When using an iPod, these three interact seemlessly, making the process very straightforward, yet importing music from other services can be anything but simple. Because of the increasing segregation between music purchased elsewhere and music purchased at the iTunes store, rivals and technology rights groups are worried Apple is being overly aggressive in their methods of music organization.
Others believe iTunes inhibits user choice in its methods of music management. "Users should have the choice of the iTunes store or somebody else's store," says Rob Lord, chief executive of Songbird, a rival music player that is designed for use on any device, including the iPod. He also added consumers should be able to switch to Nokia, Blackberry In Motion Ltd or other MP3 players without having to dump their entire music library.

One 'problem' is that their cries are  falling on deaf ears. As of right now, with Apple's huge market share, as well as their continuing popularity, it has no reason to change the DRM scheme. On top of this, no one can force Apple to change their tactics. With Microsoft's Zune, software, and marketplace trio, Apple is not a musical monopoly liable for review.

To illustrate the technology rights group's fears, one must understand what it means to purchase a song through the iTunes store. Each track purchased is a normal MP4 file that has an encrypted audio stream (
AAC). The purchase information, including the key used to encode the song are stored on Apple's servers. In order to play the file, iTunes accesses Apple's servers, downloads the key information, and activates the computer. At any given time, 5 computers can be activated to play the users songs through QuickTime. The issue lies in the fact that the songs can only play on activated computers, and only through programs that work with QuickTime. This seemingly ties the purchaser to Apple and QuickTime. Yet Apple has avoided lawsuits by giving users a work-around. To remove the DRM from the song, the song can be burned to a CD and re-ripped to the hard drive without any DRM. A lengthy and frustrating process for anyone who wants out from Apple.

Digital Rights Management for songs is not the only issue being brought up. The iPhone and iPod Touch both use a new version of an Apple file format known as iTunesDB. In order for software to sync with an iPod, iTunesDB must be used. The older version, which was used in previous generations of iPods, was hacked quickly, allowing access by third party programs. The new version hasn't been cracked (yet), so as of now, users with an iPhone or iPod Touch must use iTunes to manage their music. For the majority of users, who use iTunes, this goes unnoticed, but for those who use
Winamp or other popular music management software it brings up a host of issues.

How strongly does Apple feel about keeping iTunesDB uncracked? Enough that when possible cracking solutions were posted on the site
bluwiki, Apple was quick to contact the operator, Sam Odio. "When a lawyer calls you up and implicitly threatens litigation that would bankrupt your little project you obviously have no choice but to comply," he said.

Groups such as Electronic Frontier Foundation believe Apple has gone too far. "This is a pure attack on interoperability," said Fred von Lohmann, a lawyer for the Foundation. "In October of last year, they added software which has no purpose other than to prevent applications other than iTunes from working," he added.

Only time will tell if the Apple Juggernaut will be effected in the future as more and more users try software for their musical needs. With the overwhelming hostility towards digital gaming DRM such as that used in Spore, combined with more and more people's desire for unencumbered music, Apple is asking for trouble if they add too much more rigidity to what their users can and cannot do.