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iPod, Meet the Xbox…..


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November 04, 2005

iPod, Meet the Xbox…..

Arik Hesseldahl

Microsoft has apparently been talking about how Xbox 360 owners will be able to connect their iPods to the gaming machine and use music as an alternate soundtrack in certain games. Of course there’s a wrinkle, the one so often heard about products that would be much better if it weren’t true: The feature won’t work with music bought on the iTunes Music Store.

Here’s how it's going to work: Plug the iPod into the Xbox 360, and the console will recognize the iPod, and then let you browse music which you can listen to as an audio backdrop to your game. But the Xbox will only play music stored on the iPod in MP3 or unprotected AAC format. Since songs from the iTunes store are protected by an Apple-controlled digital rights management scheme called Fairplay, it won’t let you browse to or play those songs. According to a story on CNet, Microsoft sought Apple’s cooperation, but Apple didn’t want to play ball.

Apple’s been pretty careful not to share access to Fairplay with other firms. Last year Steve Wildstrom described Apple as following an “isolationist course” over its music formats. Over the years of the iPods/iTunes ascendancy, many critics, including myself, have worried that this attitude would prove a dissuading force to consumers who would seek players and online music stores with more open formats. One look at iPod sales and iTunes download figures shows that hasn't happened, at least not yet.

Microsoft, unlike its neighbor RealNetworks, at least knows not to make much of a public relations farce over the issue by taking on Apple. Remember that kerfuffle between RealNetworks and Apple over Real’s desire to play its music on the iPod? Still, last I looked, which was five minutes ago, the iPod is still officially listed as supported by Real’s Harmony music format.

But still, there’s a handful of products out there that would be so much better if Apple were to open up the Fairplay DRM scheme. Aside from the Xbox 360, the Sonos Digital Music System comes to mind as one that would benefit greatly from a little cooperation from Apple. The product streams music stores on the computer all over the house, is easy to set up, and it works with a Mac. But it can’t see songs that come from the iTunes store.

Apple should loosen the rules a little and find ways to cooperate with developers of non-competing products. It did it when it cooperated with Motorola on the ROKR phone which given its 100-song limit certainly isn’t going to compete with iPod sales. Apple could easily find a few more products that would make great accessories to the iPod/iTunes experience but which won’t directly compete with other products Apple sells or may intend to sell. It’s not like Apple’s going to lose any sales by letting the iPod talk to the Xbox, now is it?

06:53 PM

iPod and iTunes

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i agree, apple should open up fairplay; i actually think they will at some point. at the moment though their market share, while impressive is tenuous. i suspect when ipod sales reach 100 million and music store sales approach 1 billion a year apple will open up more.once they've reached critical mass they will deliver a critical blow to the likes of napster

Posted by: dmac at November 5, 2005 02:08 AM

Sonos - okay but if you give MS an inch, they'll take your OS like they did 20 years ago ...

Posted by: jbelkin at November 5, 2005 04:06 AM

Hi,

if you absolutely *have* to listing to that particular song through XBox on your iPod that you bought from the iTMS, you can always burn it to a CD and rip it back as an MP3. Ok, it their isn't a direct way, but it is possible. How many songs on any given iPod are from the music store anyway? Not the majority, I guess. So how big a deal is this, then?

I wasn't in the meetings that Apple had with the music license holders (and I am arrogant enough to assume you were neither), so I can't possibly know what was negotiated. Apple wants to control the DRM, but I can imagine that the music license holders themselves aren't too crazy about the fact that a given song downloaded from iTMS can be played anytime anywhere. There might just be more to it than stuborness from the side of Apple. (You write for a site that provides information for the business world, so your audience must have some experience with complex deals)

And calling Apple an 'isolationist' (as your collegue does) is a bit too far, IMO. If a small thingy as a widget can control the iTunes application, then so can any full-featured app that manages it's own library. If you need another application because of features that iTunes doesn't offer and to organise your music and this app doesn't offer a simple feature to control iTunes in a way as can be found in widgets, then who is to blame? Apple for providing the technology? Ok, the integration isn't at the level of the DRM, but Apple always teaches us to "think different". (I am not certain whether or not iTunes on Windows offers automation, but this is a much better technology to ask for then access to the DRM)

Now Microsoft saught cooperation with Apple. Big deal. I remember when Apple was getting attention with QuickTime, a long time ago. Instead of working together, Microsoft decided to create it's own technology. Only, it didn't perform that well. So MS "borrowed" a driver from QuickTime (perfoming hardware acceleration) to get any performance at all. Apple needed to go to court to get this undone. Many others have found their components in parts of Microsofts products. I won't be supprised if MS just rips FairPlay and see what legal action this will cause.

And Microsoft MediaPlayer is such a joy, running on MacOSX. Try to listen to a radiostation for more then five minutes. Sound gets interupted, connections get lost. The same goes for watching videos some sites have, e.g. news events. But now I understand why the experience is so bad: the sites got their licenses for free. So why put any money and effort into it at all? Visitors will sooner assume that this level of experience has to do with their computers, rather then the server.

Don't get me started on every opportunity that Microsoft had to create new technology in a way that was compatible with existing efforts, but chose an “isolationist course”. How many lawsuits have there been because MS abuses it position as a monopolist.

If Microsoft *really* wants to integrate music with the iPod, they have another option: control the iPod through the connector and mix audio-output with the sounds from the game. Doesn't seem a huge effort, I think (I do have a degree in electronics, so I think I can make an assumption about the effort). Again: think different.

But all this boo-hoo-ing plays in favor of competitors: "Apple is getting big, so they must be getting bad." And if they aren't getting big, then they "will soon be just a footnote in the historybooks".

The future is scary. For everyone. But I rather have a future with Apple in it then with Microsoft. With all the game alternatives, why introduce an XBox anyway?

I personally call MS "the 80% company". They always seem to miss parts that make the difference between "useable" and "great" products (if they can't iPod integration done right themselves, then this strenghtens my opinion again). And with most customers needing less then this 80%, many don't even seem to be missing something. But for the rest of us, there is Apple.

Regards.

Posted by: Eddy Walet at November 5, 2005 07:51 AM

let's hope uncle steve knows what he is doing . that's not exactly obvious from where i'm standing ...

Posted by: bo at November 5, 2005 12:38 PM

I agree that Apple needs to find a way to open up it's DRM to certain developers. But I'll tell something about the XBox. It's the hacker's playground. They will dissect this machine the second it hits shelves. Apple may be weary of this and thus are unwilling...

Posted by: Mark at November 5, 2005 11:40 PM

How ridiculous for you to suggest that Apple should ease up w/ restrictions of their DRM, FairPlay for XBOX 360.

I have an In-Dash Audio Head Unit in my car that my iPod plugs directly into and it plays everything just fine, mp3, AAC, protected AAC. All from the controls of the Head Unit. No need for relaxed FairPlay concessions by Apple for that brand of car audio manufacturer.

The true question is this . . . Why is Microsoft coding the XBOX to play items off of an iPod but choosing to exclude the protected AAC files? The iPod itself acts as a the decoding mechanism, hence my car audio unit can play songs off my iPod, no problems.

Why is it that losers always are crying for winners to win less and lose more?

E. Ruess

Posted by: Everett Ruess at November 6, 2005 04:30 AM


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