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Paving the way for Apple’s iPhone

If you’re in the US and were eating turkey, you might have missed a fairly profound ruling that is paving the way for a possible Apple iPhone (and other unlocked devices). In addition, there is a possible crack-in-the-armor of the Digital Rights Management (DRM) crowd which would be another accelerator for just such a device.

This article at Ars Technica led me to search and actually read much of this PDF. The US Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) has attempted to restrict much of what’s possible with the digital tools most of us have at our fingertips but the restrictions are easing.

For the purposes of this post, the relevant recommendation that paves the way for products like Apple’s iPhone is this one by the US Copyright office:

Computer programs in the form of firmware that enable wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telephone communication network, when circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network.

While most of the rest of the world enjoys unlocked phones, the US has historically been a subsidized, carrier-centric mobile telephony market that minimizes choice and freedom to switch. In my view, it’s also severely restricted innovation.

Since it’s been increasingly trivial to manipulate audio, video, text and other content, markets (e.g., music and movie industries) have attempted to react to this reality with DRM. Apple obviously hit the sweet spot of the record industry troubles with music sharing, the iPod device itself and the software to manage it and buy music. Even though I hate DRM in any form, I understand the need to not go out of business while figuring out a new business model.

Rumor has it Apple’s iPhone will marry the iPod with mobile telephony and become an MVNO (buying wholesale time on other carriers’ networks and reselling it). They may not have to do that if the iPhone can freely be purchased and not locked into a specific carrier.

The chink in the armor of DRM is showing too. “DRM as we know it is over” says Paul Birch, International Federation of Phonographic Institutes (IFPI). Read more at New Music Strategies. We’ll see…but there is a growing realization that people are still buying CD’s and DVD’s in order to rip them as DRM-free content that they can move around at will.

So once again there appears to be a number of factors paving the way for Apple’s introduction of an iPhone in January similiar to the perfect storm of an industry on the ropes (i.e., record industry), consumers pent-up demand for freedom with digital music, and Apple’s penchant for great, usable design. The stock price is sure reflecting that possibility!