back to article DRM-free music dream haunts Apple's app-store lock-in

As much as we hate the wireless carriers, we may end up hating the app store vendors even more. Why? Because they create app-level lock-in that inhibits consumers' ability to move to alternative platforms. While carriers mostly locked in users by blocking phone number portability, today's app stores prevent us from having a …


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  1. Giles Jones Gold badge


    What about games consoles?

    Why does nobody mind paying for games, online service when you're locked in and can only buy games that have been approved? Games that cost £40 or more!

    What about Windows? if you buy software for Windows and want to move to the Mac you don't get a free copy for Mac automatically.

    1. StooMonster

      Some software houses do this

      Although only in the games industry...

      Blizzard give you PC/Mac version at the same time, as do Valve who give you Mac versions if you bought PC in the past and PC/Mac versions these days, Valve again if you buy PlayStation 3 version of Portal 2 give you PC and Mac versions for free, some EA games (e.g. Sims Medieval) give you PC/Mac versions on same disc, etc.

      Unfortunately business software isn't the same (nor most games), as you point out. Microsoft, Adobe, etc. don't offer you multi-platform versions; then again sometimes they don't even give you full version of one product as they've divided it up into many SKUs.

    2. Quantum Leaper

      How many system would you play the game on?

      Most multi console people I know simply pick the game they think is best an buy it for that platform.

      Windows vs. Mac, buy the game on Steam and you can play it on either platform or make sure the game comes with both versions on the DVD.

    3. Rob Davis

      Adobe Creative Suite has free cross-grade

      From Windows to Mac, for example. This is a transfer of the license from Windows to Mac platform, not the creation of 2 licenses, i.e. where you would run the software on both Windows and Mac simultaneously and independently as 2 user seats - it's not that. However the Adobe T&Cs do allow up 2 to installs of the software on the same platform provided it is only the one same user using one of the installs at any given time: ideal if you want to work on the move on your laptop and at home/office benefit from the other install being on a more powerful desktop workstation.

  2. Vlad The Impatient
    Thumb Down

    You read this here first...

    ...unless there's prior art. ;)

    Don't all app sellers have more or less unique IDs of all the purchases made? Can't they announce that if you can prove (via transaction ID or similar) that you have purchased their app on iOS you then get a copy for Android for free or a nominal fee? Surely this is possible?

    Yes, it's a bit more work for app sellers/authors, but surely worth it in the long run. Or did I misunderstood something?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up


      Guess there are probably quite a few apps that this in the real world already - Viewranger /GPS mapping software, allows you to move it between phones (and phone Os') with a single licence already.

      Yes you have to email them to get a new activation code, and as every phone has a unique imei, it is easy for software developers to lock a licence to a single device, rather than lock the software single PC/Mac/other.

    2. Paul Bruneau


      No, we don't all scrape the unique IDs of the devices of our users.

      But even if we all did have that, we have no way to provide anybody with a free copy of our app on an app store, except for very limited quantities of promo codes (iOS)

      Plus, let's say we have the UDID--how do we tie that to the user's new device?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alternative fix: buy two copies

    Here's another way to restore "fairness": Matt and his son each buy their own copies of the apps that they both use. Why should Matt and his four children (and wife, two ex wives, parents, grandparents and neighbours) get to pay just once for apps that they all use?

    If instead they each bought their own copies, then there would be none of the "lock in" that he complains about here.

    1. /\/\j17

      ...Like you would on your desktop...

      If I look around my house I can probably dig out 3 desktops, 4 laptops and a netbook.

      By Mr Asay's logic I should only need to buy one Windows 7 license and run it on all of these in parallel but for some reason Microsoft won't let me.

      Mr Asay, why do you believe you should pay for a developers time and effort to create an app for your iPhone then get the results of their time and effort porting/re-writing it for android for free...?

    2. Dave 142


      Maybe, but then if Apple are happy to let you put an app on up to five devices and the app vendors are happy with that too I don't really see the problem with one copy for a family.

    3. alcockell

      Offer multiple-client licences...

      ... and maybe you have a point.

      What IS annoying is how outside business and critical systems software, multiple-licence packs are not easily obtained. If the option was there to be able to legitimately get a 3- or 5-user pack for games, and possible to install them on networks rather than requiring the CD/DVD to be mounted all the time..

      Running Call of Duty in a youth group is currently a real hassle when you want to keep the install media away from kids...

  4. David Dawson

    I have to agree

    I recently bought an eeTab Transformer android 3.1 tablet for the missus (to go with here HTC desire). She loves it, and is constantly showing it off. Recently she showed it to one of our friends, he was duly impressed, but came back with the same argument as here. If he was going to buy a tablet, it would have to be an ipad, as he's got a load of apps that he doesn't want to purchase again (I'm not sure about the sharing of apps between users, rather than devices, as in this article though, is that really whats in the Ts & Cs?)

    I hadn't thought of this before really, having only had an android phone for 18 months or so and not coming up to a refresh cycle yet.

    While I've been tempted to look at the webOS stuff when it comes around (I'm a bit faddish), on consideration, I probably won't now, which is sad, as the dev environment looks fun.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Apps are cheap. Many are free.

    If you can afford a smartphone (not sure that I'd buy one for my kid, but there you go) the cost of a few apps shouldn't enter into it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Cheap cheep

      "I've paid 59p once, I don't see why I have to pay it again for this app on a different platform."

      Coz Angry Birds etc are so very expensive.

      Imagine if you bought Photoshop and wanted to switch platforms, how helpful do you think Adobe are?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @AC 19:32

      Most of us have paid apps - I have only a few (a few games, a GPS route finder and some productivity apps) but it would cost me something like £50 to buy them all again. Many apps may be cheap or free but you only need a few non-free apps for the costs to start adding up.

      Ultimately, though, it is not whether we can afford to buy apps we have already bought as much as wanting to avoid throwing away good money. That the author has the money to buy his kid a smartphone is neither here nor there - the point wasn't that he would have to buy more apps so he didn't bother buying junior a smartphone it was that the extra cash for existing apps made choosing a droid over an iPhone unjustifiable.

      Small amount of trick-cycling here - research strongly indicates that we are far more geared up towards avoiding loss than making gain (I suppose it is a survival thing - failing to make a gain may mean you go hungry whereas making a loss may likely mean getting eaten) which is why people are susceptible to this kind of lock-in.

    3. adam.c
      Thumb Up

      Says it all

      1. Peter 48

        Pretty Helpful actually

        Adobe is probably one of the best software vendors out there for that - they allow you to crossgrade between platforms at the cost of shipping only. They are also one of the few vendors that don't mind you selling your license to others.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Thumb Up

          Good stuff Adobe

          Didn't know that, my software reseller told me that one had to repurchase and could not cross grade.

          But then again they told me it was possible to just upgrade Photoshop in a Suite, and then when the serial numbers didn't work said "Oh yeah, that doesn't work". So perhaps they're not that worth listening to.

          Someone above said that Adobe allowed two installs, but on my stuff that doesn't happen -- I get one activation -- how do you get two?

  6. umakegoodcookies

    program much?

    And this is worse than all prior commercial Application distribution models because?...

    It really reminds me of the comedian who talked about people's sense of entitlement for something they heard about 2 minutes ago. The developer has to develop new apps for new platforms. Maybe they would like to get paid for that... not sure myself.

    The current app store model lets you use your software on all of your devices for which it was written. There has never before been a more consumer friendly application distribution model other than open source... and even that's questionable.

  7. User McUser

    How is this any different than desktops?

    If I have a PC and buy a Mac I have to repurchase all my apps there too.

    I'm not sure what app stores have to do with this or why anyone would ever assume that an app written for one platform should be transferable to another (competing) platform.

    Plus there's no incentive for developers to bother doing it. Half the money and twice the development and support costs? Gosh, where do I sign up for that?

  8. Chad H.

    Next week on the Register

    Matt Assay bemoan's McDonalds Burger buy in "Why can't I order a Whopper in McDonalds? I don't want no stinking quater pounder nor do I want to leave the McDonalds Resturant"

  9. Droid Eye

    Droid Does

    Android allows the installation of apps through sources other than the Market. The problem is that developers would rather have their apps in the market than to host it on their own site. Google isn't forcing anyone to use the Market (unlike some other mobile OS companies,) they're just giving you a convenient place to set up shop.

    If developers really felt "locked-in" by the Market, they could easily put a download link on their site right under the Windows, Mac and Linux download links they have. However, most sites I've been to have a link to the Market instead (to go along with their iTunes link for IOS.)

    I would love to be able to direct-download apps from websites to my Android (since the capability is built-in) but the devs have spoken, they like the Market.

    As far as cross-platform usage, it's up to the rest of the platforms to catch up to Android's ability to install non-Market apps before devs can help us with that. Not going to happen since that would just make it easier for your son to have the Android he WANTS instead of the iPhone he's forced to settle for.

    I'm sure you wanted to mention all this in your article but were just afraid of showing "Android bias." Don't worry, I've got you covered.

  10. umakegoodcookies

    old DRM myth

    Resurrecting the old DRM myth of iTunes lock-in in your title is just further nonsense. Apple clearly stated when the Windows iTunes store was opened that they fought with the labels to NOT have DRM. Apple never wanted it (see Rolling Stone interview with Jobs of that year).

    And it isn't DRM that locks you to the platform, it's because developers have to REWRITE THE WHOLE PROGRAM for another platform. Apps aren't like music etc. Yes, html5 apps will work cross platform and if you look at the iPhone history, that's how Apple wanted to do them IN THE FIRST PLACE. Try looking back at why that failed and the app store succeeded.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    "Matt and his son each buy their own copies"

    I don't see a problem with that, though obviously there may be times when a "family discount" may be offered (though quite how you'd verify it remains moot).

    But as a general rule, for a paid-for app, I would expect one user with one phone = one licence, and two users on two phones = two licences. Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

    When the one user with one phone wants to get rid of the old one and replace it with a new one, an administrative transfer (with limits) would make sense.

    Anything else is surely daylight robbery, from someone's point of view.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Fanboi Remorse

    Isn't vendor lock-in prior art (c.f. M$ et al.) ?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    App Store irrelevant

    The App Store does not stipulate that developers cannot release their titles on other platforms. And many developers do exactly that. If you want to know why you don't get a free copy when you change platforms, ask the developers. Apple doesn't own the Apps - it's none of its business. And the developers might point out to you that there is a high risk of higher support costs if you move between platforms ("why could I do such-and-such there but not here"?, or where did that button I use all the time go"?, etc, etc).

    The fact is, you get the same issue *everywhere*. For example, do I get a free version of Office for the Mac if I move from Windows and own Office on that platform? Do my console games get replaced because I wasn't happy my existing platform? And did the music industry replace my audio cassettes and LPs when we moved to CD? No - they all make you buy the same things all over again.

    I'm not convinced by the comparison with the music industry in any case. Music formats are largely capable of supporting anything the music industry can deliver, but not so with software. In case you hadn't noticed, Apple has always provided extremely comprehensive support for web-base apps (in fact, that was initially the *only* option), and has long been a flag-bearer for HTML5. If it was so easy to deliver multi-platform apps that way, developers would be all over it. The fact is - like Java - it provides a weak user experience compared to a dedicated, platform specific API. If you want to deliver a top-notch iPhone App, use the iOS API. If you want to deliver a top-notch Android App, use that API. And study how users interact with that platform. Trying to deliver 'run-anywhere' solutions is a sure-fire recipe for mediocrity.

  14. petur

    Your real problem

    Your real problem is that you are sharing apps across devices of different users instead of buying them per device like you'd expect.

    HOWEVER your point is COMPLETELY valid for users wanting to move from platform A to B. On the other hand, that issue already existed for Mac vs Windows

  15. Anonymous Coward

    "cloud liberates enterprises and consumers"

    Damn those herbs! They are no longer as good as they used to, are they ?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is not that clear cut

    From the article:

    "But that's the point: the customers are the app developers' customers, not really Apple's or Google's."

    Well, yes. And no. When I buy, say, Glenfiddich whisky from Tesco am I Glenfiddich's customer or Tesco's? Obviously both. Separately, and jointly, and my level of customershipness may be different from the next person who buys the same product from the same store.

    You see, I like Glenfiddich, and I chose to shop in Tesco. If I have any problems with the product I would go back to Tesco for resolution in the first instance - and only Glenfiddich directly if I got nowhere with Tesco (or if the problem was so serious it needed escalating also), however I would not hold Tesco responsible for product quality issues, just like I would not stop buying Glenfiddich if a Tesco staff member was rude to me.

    But ultimately, do I shop in Tesco because I can get my choice of malty goodness there, or do I chose to shop in Tesco which means I select my heavenly taste of Scotland from the selection Tesco elect to provide? You can't tell from the simple sales figures - and the same with apps. I have an iPhone with many iPhone apps - but you can't tell from that statement whether I chose an iPhone because I wanted an iPhone (and therefore am stuck with the pool of apps His Jobness permits me to select from) or whether I looked at the apps I either wanted or had already paid for and was forced to buy an iPhone on that basis.

    Arguably, back to the apps point, I am a customer of Apple, and Apple are a customer of the app developer who developed the app I chose to buy - I pay Apple and then Apple pay the developer after all.

    We are paying Apple to provide a service - they make the apps available to us in a way we want and Apple perform a number of checks and balances to improve the quality of apps* available - this makes Apple more than just middle-men and we are happy to pay for similar services in other areas: we pay for shops to make it easier and safer to buy goods, we pay for travel agents to sort our holidays, we pay our governments to educate our children, we pay record companies to give us quality controlled, professionally produced music on shiny spinny-disky-things, we pay estate agents to forcibly make non-consensual love to our bottys - sorry, to facilitate the buying and selling of our houses, and so on. So why is paying an app store that much different?

    *by quality I mean in the "won't brick your phone" way, not the "actually any good" way.

  17. A. Nervosa

    A few points.

    "today's app stores prevent us from having a direct relationship with the app developer"

    Have you tried walking into Heinz HQ recently and buying a tin of baked beans? You can't, and it's because there's this thing called a 'channel' and has these things called 'resellers' and it applies to a hell of a lot more than just apps. Some have one, some have many, but there's nothing new going on here.

    "Once an app store vendor bills you for a set of apps, it's hard to justify purchasing them again on another platform." and "I'm married with four kids: I can't afford too much app divergence."

    You can't have your cake and eat it, mate. You allude to taking advantage of the fact that you can install a single purchase iOS app on multiple devices simultaneously, and then you bemoan the fact that this isn't cross-platform as well?

    Nobody buys an Xbox expecting to be able to get their games exchanged if they replace it with a PS3. Nobody buys spare parts for a Ford and expects them to fit on their new Fiat. Nobody has four bloody kids and expects to get all their clothes ugraded to larger sizes when they grow out of them.

    You choose your platform, you buy for it and you make your investment like you do for almost anything else... until it's time to change the lot. It's preposterous to expect the entire software industry to go out of its way to cater to your principles on portability because you're a bit of a tight arse trying to save yourself 59p. You'd be better off giving Heinz HQ a ring and using condoms.

  18. bart

    Wha WHa WHA?

    I'm sorry, am I missing something? Are there tons of applications for any platform that allow you to install them on as many devices as you'd like? Read your license agreements a bit more carefully . . .

    In the world of more expensive desk/laptop software, it is nice to have developers grant you the ability to put it on "your family's" devices, but to expect that right with the phone/pad world of >$10 apps? Really?

    Maybe we should start asking developers to pay consumers for the privilege of distributing their software? Apple gets away with it, why not the end user?

    Of course you could let your son play games on your phone and save the $10 in an account towards his education rather than expecting society to subsidize it, let alone blot the tot's future with lots of fun student debt. Oh my, did I type that out loud? Just a thought . . .

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Missed the point

      Many apps written for smartphones ARE cross-platform.

      As someone above said, Assay's pointed is clouded by his insistence that he was trying to buy it once for multiple use. It is a real problem however, if you want to move to a different platform which is what the article was purported to be all about and in this he has a good point.

      If the developers of software want us to believe that they are giving us a license to use the software, there should be no reason why you should have to purchase the software again just because your platform is different. This is why comparing software to hamburgers above is a total non-starter.

      1. bob42

        cross-platform != multi-platform

        Just because an app is available multi-platform does not mean the developer did not have to put significant work in to redeveloping to support each new platform.


      Borgia Pope

      > Resurrecting the old DRM myth of iTunes lock-in in your

      > title is just further nonsense. Apple clearly stated

      Yes. This would be much like Steve Jobs complaining that a bunch of Playmates forced themselves on him when he visited the Playboy Mansion.

      "Please Stop"

      "I'm virtuous, really I am"

      Jobs is about as virtuous as a Borgia pope.

    3. Steven Roper
      Thumb Down

      But what you have failed to point out

      is that Apple only distributes iTunes music in their proprietary .aac format which, while not necessarily DRM-locked as you say, can only be played on Apple devices unless you can find a converter program to convert them to mp3s. So no, technically it's not DRM by the strictest definition of the term, but it may as well be.

      Just a heads up in case you aren't aware of this kind of Apple double-talk.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Not in my experience.

        iTunes Music both audio & video plays quite happily on my HTC Android phone, Sony PS3 and Samsung TV. It's just the DRM protected TV episodes which don't.

        Where's the restriction? (Apart from TV episodes)

        And NO there is no conversion or DRM stripping involved....

        1. JEDIDIAH

          Don't try to lie if you do it really badly.

          > It's just the DRM protected TV episodes which don't.

          Yes. In other words, anything meaningful in terms of content that is on iTunes that is not music is scrambled. Don't try to BS us. We can try this stuff out for ourselves you know.

          It's a really incompetent lie you are trying to perpetrate.

          Yeah... it's only the TV shows, or the movies, or the eBooks, or the audio books.

      2. jubtastic1


        Is mp4, it's exactly as proprietary as mp3 and not surprisingly, owned by the same company.

        There are very few devices that can't play mp4, it's baked into most hardware decoding chips.

        Just a heads up in case you weren't aware.

      3. Anonymous Coward

        "unless you can find a converter program to convert them to mp3s"

        like iTunes for instance....

        1. JEDIDIAH

          unless you can find a converter program to convert them to mp3s

          How about something that strips off the DRM like AnyDVD does for BluRay disks and mplayer does for DVDs?

      4. a_been

        Advanced Audio Coding

        When did Apple buy Sony, Nintendo and Google? I ask because the Wii, Sony's walkman series of mp3 players and Android phones can all play AAC music. They can do this because "AAC was developed with the cooperation and contributions of companies including AT&T Bell Laboratories, Fraunhofer IIS, Dolby Laboratories, Sony Corporation and Nokia".

        Still facts are so 1997, making shit up to blame on Apple is clearly the way ahead. Did you know Apple have sent mercenaries to Libya and are planing on invading Belgium! Fuck You steve Jobs!

        Just a heads up in case you aren't aware of this kind of Apple double-talk.

      5. mrh2

        on my Mac,,,

        ...iTunes has a 'Create MP3 Version' option so I can convert any track to play on any MP3 player.

    4. Steven Roper
      Thumb Up

      I like your taste in alcoholic beverages, sir.

      If you enjoy the Glenfiddich may I recommend you try the Ardbeg, Talisker and Caol Ila? They're all huge single malts with a real peaty kick to them. My usual favourite is the Caol Ila for the punch it packs, but if I'm in the mood for a smoother ride I go for the Talisker.

    5. Anonymous Coward

      That's a completely false analogy

      McDonalds are selling their *own* product to *their* customer.

      The customer we are talking about here is the app developer's customer, not the phone manufacturer's customer.

      Also, apps are reusable - they don't get converted into shit after one use.

      1. King Jack

        false analogy

        You forgot they may be converted to pizza if you are (un)lucky, especially after a night boozing.

      2. Chad H.

        @ False Analogy

        Its not as if Apps haven't caused a lock in before... Surely the most famous is the "Excel Lock-in" where finance departments refuse to consider anything other than Excel for Windows - hey look the OS developer is also making the app.

        This is just an excuse for the author to engage in his favorite sport - Apple bashing for Apple bashing's sake with spirilous arguments.

        Why do the Register pay this guy? (maybe they don't pay him - ah, that explains things)

    6. Gav

      App developers do not owe you anything

      I installed a new front door on my last house. Last year I moved. Imagine my disgust in learning that the door I had purchased for my old house was not compatible with my new house. I had to go out and buy again what was effectively the same door, just a slightly different size..

      Why can't manufacturers let me move from house A to B and take my door with me? I've paid them once for the door, surely that entitles me to a new door every time I chose to upgrade my house to a new model?

    7. John Molloy


      His "Perhaps the answer lies with the Financial Times, which spurred Apple to ease its app purchasing restrictions by introducing an HTML5 web app that bypasses the App Store entirely." argument kinda fails as that is how Apple launched the iPhone in the first place - and all the developers went up in arms to ask for full app writing privileges.

      Basically Matt's moan this week is to try and get Apple to hand over the keys to their kingdom. Application lock in was an important idea from the start - once you are on iOS you stick with it - that people poo-pooed, but it is real and it is an important part of the iOS strategy.

      Eagerly awaiting the article next week using same argument on getting all my Windows apps for free on Linux... Not clones, but the same applications.

      "Go on Adobe, I bought Photoshop for Windows, give it to me for free on Linux. And no, I won't give you anything for development, I've already paid you for your time once."

      Sounds a bit stupid when you put it like that.

    8. TheOtherHobbbes


      "You can't have your cake and eat it, mate."

      Yes he can. This is the same Asay who regularly witters on about how free market efficiences cure all human ills, including Microsoft and cancer.

      The fact that he has a massive sense of entitlement and seems utterly disconnected from the amount of work developers have to do to ship on and manage multiple platforms shouldn't surprise anyone.

      There is a technical point that maybe someone clever could invent a cross-platform app framework.

      But the whole point of the iOS/Android experience is that low level OS access makes it possible to do more, and to do it more efficiently.

      It's really, really unlikely that HTML5 - or wutevah - is going to be able to replace that for more than a limited range of app types.

      Asay's other toy hobby horse - open source - doesn't have the technical or marketing resources to build a truly open app hardware and software platform. Android is as good as it's likely to get, and we know how !open that is.

      So this is all vague hand-wavey pink and sparkly wishing and hoping. Neither Apple nor Google nor any of the smaller players are going to be spending a lot of time developing a cross-platform app market any time soon.

    9. Paul Bruneau

      You're wrong, Ralph 5

      Sure the apps are the developers', but the developers have no way to authorize a user to get a free app. We don't even know who the user is!


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