New iPods reengineered to block synching with Linux

While the title of this Boing Boing article is a little sensationalistic (the move was almost certainly aimed at iTunes lockin, with Linux being collateral damage) it’s not too far off the mark:

The latest iPods have a cryptographic “checksum” in their song databases that prevents third-party applications from synching with the portable music players. This means that iPods can no longer be used with operating systems where iTunes doesn’t exist — like Linux, where gtkpod and Amarok are common free tools used by iPod owners to load their players.

Notice that this has nothing to do with piracy — this is about Apple limiting the choices available to people who buy their iPod hardware. I kept my iPod when I switched to Ubuntu Linux a year ago, and I’ve been using it happily with my machine ever since (though it took me a solid week to get all my DRMed Audible audiobooks out of iTunes — I had to run two machines 24/7, playing hundreds of hours of audio through a program called AudioHijack, to remove the DRM from my collection, which had cost me thousands of dollars to build). I’d considered buying another iPod when this one started to show its age — it’s a perfectly nice player to use, provided you stay away from the DRM.

The new hardware limits the number of potential customers for Apple’s products, adding engineering cost to a device in order to reduce its functionality. It’s hard to understand why Apple would do this, but the most likely explanations are that Apple wants to be sure that competitors can’t build their own players to load up iPods — now that half of the major labels have gone DRM free, it’s conceivable that we’d get a Rhapsody or Amazon player that automatically loaded the non-DRM tracks they sold you on your iPod (again, note that this has nothing to do with preventing piracy — this is about preventing competition with the iTunes Store).

The truth is, however, that Apple seems to be getting more and more closed. The iPhone is a great example of this. It has so much potential it’s not funny. I’ve found the lockin limits that potential so much that I’ll almost certainly be getting rid of it when the OpenMoko ships. The web experience on the iPhone really is tremendous. Industry changing in fact. The lack of third party applications is just the beginning of why the device will never be what it could have been, however. Apple makes great products, there’s no doubt about it. You just have to use everything exactly the way they want you to. That’s not for me. As Apple products gain in popularity, I have to wonder how many others will get frustrated to the point that they’ll switch.



While the iPhone has been getting all the press, something seriously interesting has been happening in the Open Source mobile space. OpenMoko devices are becoming available. From a Wired Blog:

After seemingly endless delays, the OpenMoko phone is here. The first version of the NEO 1973 mobile phone, which carries the Linux kernel inside and is not locked to a specific network, is available for purchase from It’s not as jaw-droppingly pretty as the iPhone, but it shares a design philosophy — no buttons, just a screen — and it’s ready to be loaded with any number of open-source software applications. (Though, according to Gadget Lab, so is the iPhone).

The base version of the NEO sells for $300. It has a 2.8″ VGA touch screen, a micro SD card slot, a USB port and 2.5G GSM quad band capability.

Keep in mind that this unit (the GTA01) was pushed out early so developers could begin writing device drivers, custom GUIs and some cool apps for the phone. The next revision (GTA02), which will be available starting at $450 in October, will be ready for the mass market. It will have wi-fi, 3-D motion sensors and added graphics accelerators. So this phone isn’t exactly an iPhone killer — the next one will be a contender. AptUsTech has a nice comparison of the NEO 1973 and the iPhone.

I’m going to try to hold out for the GTA02, but we’ll see if I make it. Bottom line is, I am getting one of these. I’ll probably keep the iPhone also, even if it’s just as a wi-fi enabled iPod. Which phone I’ll use on a day to day basis remains to be seen, but the more I use the iPhone the more its closed architecture is a limiting factor. If rumors of a pending firmware upgrade prove true and it does in fact allow real 3rd party apps things could change quickly. In that case I may just carry around two phones :) If you’re interested in the GTA01 you can find more details here.