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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Apple/iTunes: Tiberius Time

According to Suetonius, Tiberius Cæsar “… used his left hand more readily and with more force than his right; and his joints were so strong, that he could bore a fresh, sound apple through with his finger …”. After today's experience with Apple products, I think I'm ready to start doing my special finger-flexing exercises to be able to do the same.

My DVD player died a few days ago, and as I haven't yet gotten around to replacing it (“codefree” players uncrippled by the grotesque “region code” not seeming to be as widely available as a few years ago), I decided to give the new Apple iTunes movie rental service a try in order to enjoy a highbrow classic. Well, after the usual abuse of the iTunes Store having forgotten my billing information once again, I was able to rent the movie and download the file, which took about an hour.

Now, according to the the Apple iTunes Syncing—iPod page, you can “Start watching a movie rental on your computer, sync it, and your iPod will even pick up where you left off.” Nope—didn't work: the rented movie didn't transfer to the Video iPod, even though other video programs purchased outright had copied to the iPod without any difficulties.

You see, what they don't tell you, except in a footnote at the bottom of this press release, is that movie rentals only download to “sixth-generation” iPods; owners of fifth generation video iPods are advised to consign their perfectly-working, in warranty gear, which plays all purchased video content from the iTunes Store, to the landfill and shell out another CHF399 (for the 80 Gb model) purely for privilege of watching movie rentals. And this is a company that has Al Gore on its board of directors?

Flex those fingers!

Well, OK, I thought: I'm already out the cost of the rental, and now that I've started to play it in order to download it to the iPod, which it won't do because I'm a fifth generation fossil, and I've only 24 hours before it expires and self destructs like Jim Phelps's tape recorder, at least I can watch it on the computer. It's irritating in the extreme to have to leave the machine booted into lumpen-tech Windows just to watch a movie, but whaddya you gonna do?

So, I click on the movie and a wide-screen, high-resolution QuickTime media player window opens which allows me to watch the movie. That's watch; not listen to. Despite that fact that music, audiobooks, and unprotected video files play just fine, with both audio and video, not only this rented movie but all previously outright purchased video content is utterly silent. There isn't even a piano player beneath the screen to distract the audience from the clickety-clack of the projector.

Flex those fingers!

It appears that many, if not all, Windows XP users of iTunes were gutshot and deprived of audio, not only on movie rentals and new downloads, but on their entire previously purchased video library, when they installed iTunes 7.6 (which is required to access movie rentals). Here is a discussion on an Apple support site collecting the anguished cries of Windows XP users whose video libraries have been muted since January 15th, with as yet no response from Apple. (In a silent movie, nobody can hear you scream.)

To be precise, I'm using Windows XP with all the current patches from Windows Update, iTunes, and QuickTime 7.4, the latter two of which proclaim themselves the latest versions when “Check for Updates” is clicked. (I only run this downmarket operating system for applications which don't support more competently-implemented platforms; my primary development machine spends more than 98% of its time these days running Fedora 7 Linux.)

Now, one might argue that failing to make it clear that their entire early-adopter customer base who bought into the iPod Video needs to junk their purchase and replace it with a new gizmo differentiated only (as far as I can imagine) by firmware in order to rent movies is a customer communication oversight which should have been addressed to sugar coat or at least slime over this obvious planned obsolescence aimed at a sales bump. But killing the audio of all (or at least many) of their customers on the most widely deployed operating system platform and the latest version of their own proprietary media manager package is either a staggering lapse in quality control, or a simultaneously cynical and ultimately self-destructive attempt to force users onto an Apple platform where, one presumes, such things don't happen.

Sure, Steve, force us to discard our investment in your gadget, mute all the video content we've paid for from your online store, and then expect us to spend more money on your products? Yeah, that's gonna work.

Flex those fingers!

Update: This appears to be fixed, at least for me, by the QuickTime 7.4.1 update. (2008-02-14 21:52 UTC)

Posted at January 31, 2008 01:11