Shame on You Apple: A Musical Odyssey

Most of my friends think of me as an unabashed Apple fanboy who drools over Steve Jobs’ every word. Truth-to-tell—although I’m a great fan of Apple’s products and design philosophy—many of their policies leave me chilled or outraged.

I was reminded of this recently while I stood watching the band Stricken City at the British Music Embassy that was a part of the SXSW festivities. I was really digging the band, who had shades of Siouxsie and The Banshees and the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. As they started into their last song of the set, the lead singer gave out the obligatory URL and told the crowd that they could download this next song for free from their Web site.

You can't download music files directly from a Web site to your iPhone. Why not?

You can't download music files directly from a Web site to your iPhone. Why not?

Great, I’m thinking as I pull out my iPhone and navigate to the correct URL with my
“revolutionary Internet device.” I click the link to download the album, and an alert pops up telling me that due to restrictions by Apple, I cannot download the song with my iPhone. I will need to go to a computer if I want it for free or use the iTunes store to purchase it. I later choose the free option, sending the band a contribution for it’s hard work, but was miffed that I cold not grab the song and go.

There are no good technical, security, or legal reasons why I can’t download this freely available music file to my iPhone. The only possible reason for this “feature” of the iPhone is that Apple wants to be the single gateway for all information in and out of their devices. I can sympathize with this to a certain point. Apple wants to keep a quality and consistent experience for their customers. But not allowing me to download a music file and have it install in iTunes is going too far. This not only stifles competition, it also stifles innovation.

Take one of the most important apps on the iPhone: Mail. Mail has not undergone a significant improvement since it was first released with early model iPhones. It gets the job done, but there are some very basic and obvious features missing, most notably the ability to flag a particular message and view multiple accounts in a single list. Yet Apple obviously will not permit any competing products for this service. Yes, you can get some Web app based mail programs, but that’s not what I need.

I still think my iPhone is the best device I’ve ever owned, bringing me the promise of  40 years of sci-fi tech into my palm. But I would rather Apple not take page from the Microsoft playbook and establish itself as a monopoly.

Come on Apple, open up a little: you can still make the best products, gobs of cash, and keep that whole “Think Different” philosphy alive.