Archive for the ‘iPod’ Category

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Sony BMG Plans to Drop DRM

January 4, 2008

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In a move that would mark the end of a digital music era, Sony BMG Music Entertainment is finalizing plans to sell songs without the copyright protection software that has long restricted the use of music downloaded from the Internet, BusinessWeek.com has learned. Sony BMG, a joint venture of Sony (SNE) and Bertelsmann, will make at least part of its collection available without so-called digital rights management, or DRM, software some time in the first quarter, according to people familiar with the matter.

Sony BMG would become the last of the top four music labels to drop DRM, following Warner Music Group (WMG), which in late December said it would sell DRM-free songs through Amazon.com’s (AMZN) digital music store. EMI and Vivendi’s Universal Music Group announced their plans for DRM-free downloads earlier in 2007.

Getting Hip to the Internet
The impetus to lift copyright protection represents a sea change for the recording industry, which for the better part of a decade has used DRM to guard against what it considers illegal distribution and duplication of songs purchased online. In abandoning DRM on à la carte song purchases, the labels could create a raft of new, less restrictive ways of selling music over the Internet, such as through social networks like Facebook and News Corp.’s (NWS) MySpace. Partnerships with retailers such as Amazon could also help the music industry take a swipe at Apple (AAPL), which has come to dominate the legal download market through a one-size-fits-all pricing scheme record labels find restrictive.

Details of Sony BMG’s plans are expected to emerge in the coming weeks. Justin Timberlake, the popular recording artist signed to the Sony-owned Jive label, is participating in a Super Bowl promotion with Pepsi (PEP) that will kick off Feb. 3 and offer free distribution of 1 billion songs from major labels, including Sony BMG, through Amazon’s DRM-free download service, according to a person familiar with the matter. Sony has been experimenting with DRM-free songs for about six months. The company began giving away DRM-free promotional downloads for recording artists that sell less than 100,000 units, and at least one artist gained mainstream exposure through the effort. “A lot of these tests have led people to believe that maybe this works,” says a Sony BMG executive who asked not to be identified. A Sony BMG spokesman declined to comment. Amazon also declined to comment on its DRM-free deals, beyond what it has disclosed in press releases.

The move by Sony BMG is especially noteworthy, given the company’s checkered DRM past. In 2005, Sony BMG incited a consumer boycott and was the target of lawsuits after it embedded CDs with a form of DRM that was surreptitiously copied to and buried in users’ PCs (BusinessWeek.com, 11/29/05), leaving the machines vulnerable to viruses.

Abandoning an Outmoded Idea
Many, including music executives, consider the industry’s about-face long overdue. “This agreement is the first of many of these types we’ll be announcing in the coming weeks and months,” Warner Music Group Chief Executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. wrote in a Dec. 27 memo to employees explaining Warner’s breakthrough deal with Amazon. “Many have argued that we could and should have done this long ago.”

Labels used DRM software in an effort to prevent illegal sharing of songs on peer-to-peer networks, such as Gnutella. Instead, the restrictions served mainly to frustrate paying customers, forcing them to degrade the quality of music by first burning it to a CD before uploading it for play on the device of their choosing. Last year, consumers filed several class actions against the major record labels (BusinessWeek.com, 1/5/07) and, in a couple cases, against Apple, for restricting the devices and thereby controlling prices.

“DRM tends to punish the innocent more than the guilty,” says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, a technology research company. “It was hurting folks who were trying to follow the rules more than the folks who were pirating the music.”

Dancing to Apple’s Tune
Worse for the labels, the restrictions ultimately resulted in less control over the paid download industry. Because DRM tended to tie consumers to the store most compatible with their music device, the record labels unwittingly gave much of the power over music distribution to Apple, the manufacturer of the most popular digital music player, the iPod. Music industry executives say Apple has not wielded that power lightly. With control of an estimated 80% of the market for legally downloaded music, Apple pushed its preferred price of 99¢ per song over the opposition of several labels (BusinessWeek.com, 9/25/05), which preferred variable pricing that would allow some artists to sell at a premium.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs also refused repeated requests from the recording industry and iPod competitors to license its DRM technology so that iTunes customers could easily put their music on other devices, without first burning it to a CD or otherwise altering the files. In a Feb. 6, 2007, letter titled “Thoughts on Music,” Jobs maintained that licensing its DRM technology to many providers would make it too difficult to keep its antipiracy code under wraps: “Licensing a DRM involves disclosing some of its secrets to many people in many companies, and history tells us that inevitably these secrets will leak.”

Jobs used the letter to pressure the music labels (BusinessWeek.com, 2/6/07) to abandon their own use of copyright protection technology. “In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players,” Jobs wrote. “This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat.” The public shaming helped Apple take the moral high ground at a time when it was under pressure from European regulators to open its DRM to let iTunes customers download their music to non-Apple devices. With his letter, Jobs pointed the finger at the labels for supporting DRM, silently suggesting the wrath of consumers and antitrust authorities should lie with them. Within two months, EMI, one of the smaller of the big four labels, offered to sell higher-quality, DRM-free tracks through iTunes for a 30¢ premium. By Oct. 17 the tracks were selling for 99¢.

A Play for an iTunes Competitor
DRM is by no means dead. Music subscription services such as RealNetwork’s (RNWK) Rhapsody and ad-supported services like Ruckus (BusinessWeek.com, 1/22/07) will continue to use DRM to ensure music stops playing when a subscription ends. But these services represent only a small segment of the market. “There won’t be any DRM of significance by the end of 2008,” says David Pakman, president and CEO of DRM-free music download service eMusic, the second-largest service after iTunes. “The only time you will see it used is for rental services.”

Rather than following EMI’s lead, other labels are hoping to create another Apple competitor in Amazon, which is willing to give the recording industry greater pricing flexibility. “That was a big part of it—countering Apple’s control in a positive way by creating more able competitors,” says Mike McGuire, a vice-president for research at Gartner (IT).

Narrowing Apple’s lead won’t be easy. Just ask Microsoft (MSFT), which has made meager headway with its Zune music player and online music store. Still, no service has yet been able to offer DRM-free music downloads from all four major labels. Amazon could yet become a contender.

With Tom Lowry and Spencer Ante in New York.
Holahan is a writer for BusinessWeek.com in New York.
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New study on iPod interference in pacemakers

May 14, 2007

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Seventeen year old Michigan high school student Jay Thaker has presented a paper on iPod and pacemaker interference to the 2007 annual meeting of the Heart Rhythm Society in Denver, Colorado. The study concluded that iPods caused various types of interference in pacemakers in 50 percent of the patients tested.

The population tested in Thaker’s study had a mean age of 76.1 (plus or minus 8.6 years), which is admittedly not the prime demographic for iPods and other MP3 players. However, the results of the study give some indication of the kinds of issues that will arise as those currently in their 40s and 50s start to develop their own personal relationships with cardiologists.

Thaker, the son of an electrophysiologist and a rheumatologist, worked with several doctors from Michigan State University and the University of Michigan to test his theory of interference. Four different iPods – a third-generation MP3 player, a video iPod, a photo iPod, and a Nano – were held 2 inches above the chests of 83 patients with pacemakers. Each iPod was held there for five to ten seconds while a technician monitored electrocardiogram and pacemaker telemetry equipment.

The study revealed that three different types of interference can occur between an iPod and a pacemaker. Two types, oversensing (spurious sensing of atrial/ventricular events) and telemetry interference, were the most persistent and were measured in more than 50 percent of the patients. The third, most serious type of interference – pacemaker inhibition, or a failure to pace the heart when pacing was expected – occurred in just 1 patient.

Ironically, iPods are becoming a valuable tool in the training of new cardiologists. At the University of Michigan, in fact, Dr. Richard M. Judge has developed a podcast called “Electrocardiogram of the Week,” which third-year medical students can store on their iPods to practice reading and interpreting electrocardiograms.

Over at Temple University School of Medicine and Hospital, Dr. Michael Barrett, a clinical associate professor of medicine and cardiologist, has recorded several heartbeats with irregularities and stored them as MP3s.

Medical students can download the recordings to their iPods and use them to practice “cardiac auscultation,” or listening to the heart through a stethoscope. Dr. Barrett has found that when physicians and students practice first with the recordings, their ability to identify specific heart murmurs is twice as good.

Dr. Barrett is working with the American College of Cardiology to make the heart recordings available online and on CD, so physicians could listen to them during their commutes to and from work.

Clinically relevant or not, the iPod study’s findings found their way around the world in one form or another. How serious they seemed to be, however, depended on where one read them.

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Cheaters caught using iPod

May 2, 2007

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Schools around the US are banning iPods and other digital media players from their classes as potential cheating devices.

After banning cell phones that could be used to send text messages between students during tests, schools are now focusing on the new threat: digital music players. These small players that can play music to soothe the nerves of some can also play recorded answers or even recorded classes to thecheating student who just wants to pass the test.

But the decision is not easy, since these players are usually small and easily hidden in clothes with earbuds and wires that can be undetectable at first.

Mountain View High School is one of the schools that recently enacted a ban on digital media players after school officials realized some students were downloading formulas and other material onto the players.

“A teacher overheard a couple of kids talking about it,” said Principal Aaron Maybon.

Shana Kemp, spokeswoman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said she does not have hard statistics on the phenomenon but said it is not unusual for schools to ban digital media players.

“I think it is becoming a national trend,” she said. “We hope that each district will have a policy in place for technology — it keeps a lot of the problems down.”

Using the devices to cheat is hardly a new phenomenon, Kemp said. However, sometimes it takes awhile for teachers and administrators, who come from an older generation, to catch on to the various ways the technology can be used.

Some students use iPod-compatible voice recorders to record test answers in advance and them play them back, 16-year-old Mountain View junior Damir Bazdar said.

Others download crib notes onto the music players and hide them in the “lyrics” text files. Even an audio clip of the old “Schoolhouse Rock” take on how a bill makes it through Congress can come in handy during some American government exams.

Kelsey Nelson, a 17-year-old senior at the school, said she used to listen to music after completing her tests — something she can no longer do since the ban. Still, she said, the ban has not stopped some students from using the devices.

“You can just thread the earbud up your sleeve and then hold it to your ear like you’re resting your head on your hand,” Nelson said. “I think you should still be able to use iPods. People who are going to cheat are still going to cheat, with or without them.”

Still, schools around the world are hoping bans will at least stave off some cheaters.

Henry Jones, a teacher at San Gabriel High School in San Gabriel, California, confiscated a student’s iPod during a class and found the answers to a test, crib notes and a definition list hidden among the teen’s music selections. Schools in Seattle, Washington, have also banned the devices.

The practice is not limited to the United States: St. Mary’s College, a high school in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, banned cell phones and digital medial players this year, while the University of Tasmania prohibits iPods, electronic dictionaries, CD players and spell-checking devices.

Conversely, Duke University in North Carolina began providing iPods to its students three years ago as part of an experiment to see how the devices could be used to enhance learning.

The music players proved to be invaluable for some courses, including music, engineering and sociology classes, said Tim Dodd, executive director of The Center for Academic Integrity at Duke. At Duke, incidents of cheating have declined over the past 10 years, largely because the community expects its students to have academic integrity, he said.

“Trying to fight the technology without a dialogue on values and expectations is a losing battle,” Dodd said. “I think there’s kind of a backdoor benefit here. As teachers are thinking about how technology has corrupted, they’re also thinking about ways it can be used productively.”

But, as Principal Maybon said, “It doesn’t take long to get out of the loop with teenagers. They come up with new and creative ways to cheat pretty fast.” And isn’t that a sign of resourcefulness? 😉

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100 million iPods sold in 5 years

April 9, 2007

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Apple announced today that the 100 millionth iPod has been sold, making the iPod the fastest selling music player in history.

The first iPod was sold five and a half years ago, in November 2001, and in the last five years Apple has introduced more than 10 new iPod models, including five generations of iPod, two generations of iPod mini, two generations of iPod nano and two generations of iPod shuffle.

“At this historic milestone, we want to thank music lovers everywhere for making iPod such an incredible success,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “iPod has helped millions of people around the world rekindle their passion for music, and we’re thrilled to be a part of that.”

“It’s hard to remember what I did before the iPod,” said Mary J. Blige, Grammy Award-winning singer. “iPod is more than just a music player, it’s an extension of your personality and a great way to take your favorite music with you everywhere you go.”

“Without the iPod, the digital music age would have been defined by files and folders instead of songs and albums,” said John Mayer, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and guitarist. “Though the medium of music has changed, the iPod experience has kept the spirit of what it means to be a music lover alive.”

The iPod has also sparked an unprecedented ecosystem of over 4,000 accessories made specifically for the iPod that range from fashionable cases to speaker systems, and more than 70 percent of 2007-model US automobiles currently offer iPod connectivity.

“I take my running shoes and my iPod with me everywhere,” said Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour de France champion. “I listen to music when I run. Having my music with me is really motivating.”

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EU commissioner criticizes iPod-iTunes tie-in

March 12, 2007

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German weekly magazine Focus published European Union consumer chief Meglena Kuneva oppinion on Apple Inc.’s bundling of its popular iPod music players and its iTunes online music store and it was not a very positive one.

“Do you think it’s fine that a CD plays in all CD players but that an iTunes song only plays in an iPod? I don’t. Something has to change,” EU Consumer Protection Commissioner Kuneva was quoted as saying in a preview of an interview published today.

Pressure on Apple has been building, with consumer rights organisations from Germany, France, Finland and Norway recently agreeing a joint position in their battles against iTunes.

They argue that Apple uses digital rights technology to limit consumers’ free use of songs bought on iTunes, including the ability to copy and transfer songs to other users and other MP3 devices besides the Apple iPod. Both at the national and EU levels, however, the issue has been looked at by consumer agencies rather than the competition watchdogs whose role it is to decide whether a business actitivity violates rules on fair competition.

Norway, a European country that is not in the EU, is battling Apple for the same reason. In January, it said the computer and software giant must liberalise its music download system by Oct. 1 or face legal action.

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Drop the Computer

February 12, 2007

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“WE’RE going to make some history here today,” said Steve Jobs at the beginning of his annual speech at Macworld, his company’s cult-like trade show in San Francisco. He was as good as his word. First, he launched a product that promises at last to bring digital entertainment from people’s computers to their television screens without fuss. Then he unveiled an even more impressive device that transcends the description “mobile phone”. Mr Jobs, who was so excited that he had lain awake all night, made it clear that he considered this day a watershed in the three-decade history of Apple Computer, a point that he emphasised by announcing that his firm would henceforth drop “Computer” from its name.

Indeed, Apple’s laptop and desktop computers, which are selling briskly, were hardly mentioned. Nor were Apple’s iPods, which dominate the market for portable music players. Both of the new products are really computers, but people won’t think of them as such, since they will be in their pockets and living rooms. The mobile phone—provided Apple can settle a legal dispute over the name with Cisco, a network-equipment company—is called the iPhone. It will go on sale in America in June starting at $499, in Europe in the autumn and in Asia next year. The television-set add-on is called Apple TV and will hit stores next month at $299. With these two products, Mr Jobs intends to enter and transform new industries, and ultimately people’s lives—just as he did in 1984 when Apple transformed computing with the launch of the Macintosh, and again in 2001 when it introduced the iPod, which shook up the music industry.

That Mr Jobs’ announcements had such an impact during this particular week says a lot, because the rest of the consumer-electronics, computer and telecoms industries were simultaneously congregating at the Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s biggest technology fair, in Las Vegas. There, many of Mr Jobs’ old and new rivals were talking about much the same things as he was. Microsoft’s Bill Gates introduced the “Windows Home Server”, his answer for uniting computers and television sets. Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, the boss of Nokia, a mobile-phone giant, unveiled new handsets that can hold music and videos. His rival, Ed Zander of Motorola, did the same and rode a yellow bicycle around the stage to illustrate the point that “content moves with you.” And so forth.

But all the gadgets being peddled in Las Vegas were “evolutionary”, whereas Apple’s were “revolutionary” and thus noteworthy, says Tim Bajarin, the boss of Creative Strategies, a technology consultancy in Silicon Valley. This is particularly true of the iPhone. Officially, it falls into the category of “smartphones” like the Treos or BlackBerrys that seem almost surgically attached to business people these days. But Mr Jobs used that term in mockery, since many of these phones are, to him, so patently dim-witted. Yes, they can send and receive e-mail, but why have a tiny keyboard when you do not need it for most of the phone’s other functions? Indeed, as Mr Jobs was talking, shares in Apple soared and they plunged at Research in Motion and Palm, the makers of the BlackBerry and Treo respectively.

Unlike rival products—but in keeping with Apple’s approach—the iPhone’s front panel has only one mechanical button. The thin, small slab has a touch-screen which displays whatever buttons, keys or icons are relevant to the task in hand. When playing music, the iPhone shows album covers; when writing e-mail, a small keyboard; when a call comes in, the caller’s identity from the address book; and so on. And whereas any other company would have foisted a stylus on its victims, Mr Jobs gloated, Apple lets them use fingers to scroll, drag, type and resize. Just as the Macintosh was a breakthrough in 1984 for its mouse, and the iPod in 2001 for its click wheel, the iPhone’s stroke of genius is this new “multi-touch” technology. “And boy have we patented it,” said Mr Jobs.

Along with more than 200 other patents, this technology should put the iPhone “five years ahead” of its rivals, reckons Mr Jobs. This claim is hard to judge. The iPhone is not the only phone that can switch automatically between a short-range Wi-Fi connection and a mobile-phone network, depending on which one it sniffs. But it is the only phone with a web browser (Apple’s Safari) that displays web pages in their full splendour. It is also the only phone that has “visual voicemail” to save users from the hassle of listening to all their messages before getting to the important ones—a joint innovation with Apple’s partner, Cingular, America’s largest mobile operator. And it is by far the best handset for photographs, music and videos.

In his commercial goals, Mr Jobs was more conservative. Around one billion handsets are sold each year and Apple hopes to sell 10m iPhones, capturing 1% of the market, in 2008. Yet just as the original iPod led to smaller and cheaper models, thus exceeding Mr Jobs’ initial projections, so the iPhone too could become a big family of products. This must be worrisome to Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and, above all, to Sony Ericsson, which concentrates on selling high-end music handsets under its Walkman brand.

Amid all the excitement, Mr Jobs’ biggest concern has nothing to do with Apple’s products. The risk, rather, is that Apple will become more deeply mired in a financial scandal over the backdating of share options, a practice that it and more than 200 other firms have now admitted to. Apple disclosed last June that it had awarded options with dates manipulated to make them more likely to pay out. It has since filed four statements with securities regulators, and each time Mr Jobs’ role has grown. Last month two board members, including Al Gore, America’s former vice-president, issued a report ostensibly clearing Apple’s boss of responsibility, but confusingly and contradictorily detailing bad options grants (and even a fictitious board meeting) that involved Mr Jobs.

Mr Jobs will not be in the clear until regulators give their own verdict. Many other affected firms have atoned by letting errant bosses go. For Apple, whose identity is inextricably wound up with its co-founder and boss, this might spell disaster. Mr Jobs does have able lieutenants, such as Timothy Cook, his number two, who took over for six weeks while Mr Jobs had cancer surgery in 2004. But Apple without Steve Jobs would lose its shine.

in: The Economist

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The iPhone – It’s Everything

February 10, 2007