When I read Joe Wilcox’s Microsoft Watch missive on Apple’s use of DRM on AppStore applications for the iPhone, I have to admit, my initial (and continuing) reaction was: “So what?”
What exactly is the reason for the DRM?
It is not to keep people from using the application on other (non-Apple) devices, as this is a nonissue. Since the application is specifically written for the iPhone, which runs an operating system that no one else uses, it’s not like you can directly port it over to an AT&T Tilt or BlackBerry.
Maybe the DRM is there to enforce a software license, so, for example, a user can’t move the app from their old 4GB iPhone to their brand new 3G iPhone. I don’t know whether or not this scenario is true, as the AppStore hasn’t come out. But in the past, Apple has not gotten in the way of moving Fairplay-protected content to multiple devices — as long as the devices are synced to the same iTunes account. And moving it to a device maintained under a different user account would, presumably, violate the software license anyway — so does it differ in any way from Microsoft Activations and Genuine Advantage?
One may ask that, since no other device can accept an iPhone app, why bother having the DRM then?
Well, I’m sure Apple has its reasons, and here’s my guess as to the public one it will offer: It wants to protect the iPhone experience.
Apple implemented the whole SDK and AppStore system so it could control what gets on the iPhone — and what goes on under the covers. It wants to ensure that applications aren’t going to hog CPU, unduly drain the battery or block the core functionality (making a call) of the device at inopportune times. The company has created the whole development ecosystem around the iPhone – and ensured that Apple is the final arbiter of what goes on the device — in order to protect this experience (and yes, take a cut off any profits that arise from applications).
Without the DRM, Apple quickly loses control of the ecosystem once people start cracking open applications and modifying them to suit their needs. Apple can no longer provide that level of assurance that the battery is not going to run down or the core functionality won’t be sluggish due to a runaway process. And while I am surely aware that Fairplay has been broken before, and surely will be again, some protection is better than nothing as far as Apple is concerned.
You know what? I’m comfortable with this level of assurance even if it is (that accursed) DRM providing it. I did not like my iPhone as much when I cracked it because certain applications just killed the device performance and caused crashes. I know that I have different expectations about the ways I can use and consume software versus the ways I can consume media (open-sourced software not withstanding), and I’m not going to take a knee-jerk reaction that DRM = Evil until it passes some litmus test where my rights of fair use are being revoked. With the knowledge we have at hand, I don’t feel we’ve reached that point.
My concerns instead are around what the DRM itself does to the performance of my iPhone. I’ve heard persuasive evidence that iPod batteries drain faster when playing Fairplay-protected content than when playing a regular MP3. If I spend a lot of time in the DRM-protected AppStore application, will these same symptoms be in effect on my iPhone? Does it even matter, if all the standard applications on an iPhone are likewise protected? Because in that case, the battery drain due to DRM is the norm rather than an exception.
And how does this affect custom applications created by enterprises for in-house use? Does the DRM apply here, and if so, isn’t that a good thing, since enterprise developers may appreciate a little more security wrapped around their intellectual property?