Ringtone madness

I really like my iPhone, but in some ways it’s souring my relationship with Apple. Yesterday I watched Apple’s video introducing new iPhone features. Most of the new features are yawners, but I can’t help but notice that it seems like all of the big features in this release are just ways to make it easier for Apple to get customers to give them more money. I’d like an IM client, what I get instead is the opportunity to buy DRM-infested music tracks on my iPhone. Great.

What I really wanted to post about was the new ringtone feature. First, let me say that the interface to select and edit ringtones is seriously cool. Pick a song, pick a snippet of the song you want to use as your ringtone, and then add fade effects if you like. I’m not a ringtone person, but the elegance of the interface is impressive. The catch is that if you want to use a song as a ringtone, you have to buy it from the iTunes Music Store and then you have to pay an additional 99 cents to convert it into a ringtone. I already knew Apple was going to charge for ringtones, but seeing how nifty the tool is and then being reminded again that if I want to play a song on my phone when someone calls I have to pay Apple for it twice just makes me want to punch somebody in the face.

The fact that the ringtone industry is pure exploitation is not news. John Gruber wrote a great post criticizing Apple for participating in this farce a couple of weeks ago. What shocked me was my visceral negative reaction to the video. I like Apple’s products, but I don’t like the way they’re doing business.

11 thoughts on “Ringtone madness

  1. I have been an Apple customer since I was a teenager and very recently I have started feeling the same way. I am not an idiot I know companies need to make money and they have to answer to their shareholders. Shareholders can be huge a**holes. Look at this group of investors suing Jobs and Co for the stock options thing when the stock they have purchased has increased in price at a level that would make most fortune 500 companies envious. So I understand the need for Apple to generate profits. I also understand that Apple has to answer to the music labels and they are the ones who dictate how their music can be used. HOWEVER, Apple is dancing too close to that line at which a company feels so confident about us its minion customers and is so full of itself that it starts to get a little abusive. Right now I love the integration of all my Apple devices but it seems to me that history will repeat itself if this trend continues. What is next? Will Apple start requiring electric companies to pay them a percentage of energy used to charge iPhones and iPods?

  2. BTW, where the heck is the To Do List? Is this really an impossible feat of programming? Do I really have to put everything I want to do in a day as a Full Day Event or at a particular time?

  3. Apple user since the 1980’s – they are entitled to make money – the main difference is that with Apple, while they are a corporation and interested in selling, you can always ignore or turn off that feature. For instance, you can turn off the STORE in iTunes so it never shows – can you imagine any other company doing that? The iTues button on the phone is a choice you can’t reallt turn off but you can ignore it or use it to listen to previews and never have to buy a track. Yes, the $.99 ringtone is a ripoff but it’s the nicest and easiest to use. if it’s not for you, don’t use it … or use iphoneringtonemaker and create your own free ones – I did – and the 1.1.1 update did not kill it (it involves no hacking, just renaming the mp4 to m4r (or something like that). Apple tries to make it as convenient as possible for you to buy, but Apple also doesn’t force you to buy anything. You can buy a USED ipod and NEVER load anything on there from Apple – that’s entirely your choice.

  4. @poster above mine:

    Apologist!

    “the main difference is that with Apple, while they are a corporation and interested in selling, you can always ignore or turn off that feature.”

    So what. Most companies give options, not just Apple. Even in Windows, if you don’t like Internet Explorer you can simply download and use Firefox. But that doesn’t remove the fact that IE is shipped with every copy of Windows, just as iTunes sits in every iPod and you can’t use anything else to talk to the device. Can you rip and upload from CDs? Sure. Can you buy from non-iTunes stores? Nope.

    “For instance, you can turn off the STORE in iTunes so it never shows – can you imagine any other company doing that?”

    Actually, on my Windows PC I had a host of pre-loaded software that kept prompting me to buy or upgrade to the latest versions. They were annoying. And guess what? Forget turning them off — the companies – gasp! – allowed me to uninstall their programs! And Apple gets a mark just because it allows one to turn off some feature in iTunes but not to uninstall iTunes itself? How crazy is that?

    “The iTues button on the phone is a choice you can’t reallt turn off but you can ignore it or use it to listen to previews and never have to buy a track.”

    See “annoying preloaded software that I don’t want” above.

    “Yes, the $.99 ringtone is a ripoff but it’s the nicest and easiest to use.”

    Maybe so. But it’s still a ripoff. Here’s your logic, put in another way: “sure Blackbeard was a murderer and a rapist, but he was also the nicest pirate ever to have roamed the Caribbean.” Mm-hmm.

    “Apple tries to make it as convenient as possible for you to buy, but Apple also doesn’t force you to buy anything.”

    As opposed to other companies who habitually put a gun to your head? Like who, for example? Does Dell force you to buy their printer everytime you buy their PC?

    “You can buy a USED ipod and NEVER load anything on there from Apple – that’s entirely your choice.”

    Sure. And then try buying from the Amazon store.

  5. I second Marcos’ comment.

    I’ve been a Mac user and developer since the mid-80s. One of the reasons for this is that Apple tends to be on the side of the customer. Apple “builds a better mousetrap” so that people can use their computers without having to have an IT department to back them up. Macs “just work” and do things the way you expect them to, etc., etc.

    Suddenly, though, Apple seems to be making decisions not with the customer in mind, but with their partners. Ringtones are a perfect example. There is absolutely no way that anybody in their right mind can argue that ringtones do not come under the heading of “fair use”–or, at least, the RIAA and Apple should be going after those iPod Alarm Clocks and such. “You did not license your music to be used as a way of waking you. You must pay an extra 99¢ for that capability.”

    And the apologists chime in, “Well, it’s not Apple’s fault. They don’t want to offend the music companies.” But the Apple I’m used to would be more concerned with offending their customers. My favorite apologist line? “Well, at least Apple is cheaper. You pay your 99¢ only once! Why, on Sprint, I have to pay $2.50 every three months!” This reminds me of a woman I know whose husband used to verbally abuse her. When I told her that his behavior was horrible and she shouldn’t take it, she replied, “Well, at least he doesn’t hit me.”

    I have no problem with Apple selling ringtones. I might want a 30 second snippet of a song (I just want that lyric–I don’t need the whole song). I don’t even have a problem with the price being 99¢. But I shouldn’t have to pay twice for the same song and I should be able to use any song I own. That’s what customers have shown time and time again that they want.

  6. I think what Apple did is choose to make the iPhone work like the iPod line rather than like the Mac line.

    You can’t do shit with your iPod except load music and a few other approved kinds of things onto it. You can’t download 3rd party apps. You can’t change the UI much. You can’t download DRM-protected songs from other vendors than ITMS and play them.

    For the iPod, this has been a wildly successful model. But I think in large part that’s because it came from the music consumer electronics world. Nobody expects to load new software on their Walkman, and the number of things you want to do with an iPod is pretty limited – music, videos, photos.

    But the smartphone world is well-established already and pretty much all the other vendors at least let you load 3rd-party applications and generally mess with your phone. Apple wants to say, “Hey, only geeks care about that stuff; we just provide the features normal people need, with a super slick interface, and at a fair price.”

    There’s something to be said for that idea. But even non-geeks would like cheap ringtones. And as soon as the iPhone clones start to get as slick and thin and shiny but also let you make ringtones for free and install that IM client and take it to Europe, well, maybe the iPhone won’t look quite as much fun.

    Still, for now, I think Apple’s bet is pretty sound, provided they don’t piss off their customers too much with ripoff carrier-style pricing. But they’re right in thinking that most people would rather have the slick iPhone than the nerdy, kinda hard to use Treo. Not me, but I really am a geek.

  7. You can’t download DRM-protected songs from other vendors than ITMS and play them [on the iPod/Phone].
    —Jacob Davies

    To which I say, “GOOD!” The fewer choices you have as to how to play your DRM-infested music, the less likely you are to purchase more. As more legitimate customers are needlessly inconvenienced by the restrictions, the faster the day of DRM’s death will approach.

    Until them, make mine Magnatune, eMusic, (and now) Amazon’s mp3 store—but not until the price drops significantly below $0.99/song. $11–16 is too much to pay for an album, people!

    Once songs are ~$0.25-0.50, then I’ll start snapping ’em up like a soccer mom at a “Crack-addict Elmo” sale.

  8. Seems to me this is just the logical progression of what Jobs started with the Macintosh. The whole design philosophy back in the early ’80s was to turn the personal computer into the equivalent of the toaster: Nothing user hackable, nothing changeable, and that’s why many of us went from fawning Apple fanboys to other architectures when Apple crippled the //gs. The whole notion of the Apple // (or, to us old-school folks, the ][) series was that it had expansion slots that were pretty easy to use (in high school I built a serial card for an Apple ][+), it had built-in A/D and digital I/O (my own joystick, and any number of timing gates and such, even a sonar rangefinder kit, for my high school physics classroom), it was an elegant design that also happened to be really nicely hackable.

    The Mac was closed. Elegant, sure, but to plug anything into it you had to figure out interface specs that only Macs or high end computers used (SCSI, and don't get me started on what they've used for video out over the years...). And try to get real performance out of the Toolbox API or the video? Yeah, right, it's no wonder the Apple ][ architecture lasted into the early ’90s in educational applications, the Mac worked well for word processing or drawing, but for hacking out visualizations it just didn’t work, no matter how many machines they managed to give away (I had a couple of semesters of college paid for by grants writing educational software on DOS computers, the professor who was getting me those grants had a room full of Lisas and Macs).

    A lot of Apple fans managed to keep the Mac fires burning, but the closed nature of the iPod, Apple’s attempts to keep anything but their own software from talking to their hardware (ie: the recent iPod vs Linux struggles), the ringtone situation, all of these are the end result of the Steve Jobs “we know better than you” design philosophy.

    I want a hackable future, not one in which I’m funnelled into being “a good consumer”, and to that end, even though the Macintosh is my primary development platform right now, I’m deliberately avoiding anything Apple for my personal use.

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