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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Apple/iTunes: One Betrayal Too Many

Some time ago I wrote of an egregious betrayal of customers on the part of Apple, who disabled, for more than two weeks, sound from video purchased from the iTunes Store for customers attempting to play their purchased content on Windows XP machines.

Well, Apple's contempt for their customers doesn't seem to have ended there. Yesterday, having purchased a “season pass” for the current season of “South Park”, I booted my machine into Windows XP in order to download the latest episode. Having done so (along with another episode of a program to which I subscribe), I downloaded them to my fifth-generation video iPod, with the intention of playing them at my convenience after I'd restored my computer to a user-oriented operating system.

Later, I tried to play the recently-downloaded videos: nothing doing—in each case, after starting to play the video, the screen went blank and after ten to twenty seconds the program selection menu reappeared. Note that there was never, in the process of downloading, transfer to the iPod, nor in the attempt to play the video on the iPod, any indication of a digital rights management (DRM) or authorisation problem. The odd thing is that all videos previously downloaded, including episodes of the two programs I'd just updated, continued to play perfectly—obviously this was something specific to the newly downloaded episodes.

After exhausting all of the obvious expedients the folks in the offshore call centre would suggest in order to make their customers go away (resetting the iPod, trying it without the docking connector attached, standing on my head and breathing through my ears whilst pressing the “Play” button with my left little toe), I booted the machine back into Windows XP, whence I verified that all of the software versions involved were current: iTunes 7.6.2, QuickTime 7.4.5, iPod video 1.3. I then verified that the recently-downloaded videos which wouldn't play on the iPod indeed played just fine when launched from iTunes under Windows XP, which excludes any kind of download or DRM authorisation problem. I then, anticipating the all-purpose answer, “restored” the iPod (where “restore” means “wipe the hard drive and reload from the PC archive”). An hour and a half later, when this process was complete, I was precisely back where I began. All content purchased from the iTunes store prior to 2008-04-13 played fine on the iPod, but subsequent purchases resulted in a black screen “Duh”. If you visit the Apple support forum, it's apparent that this problem is widespread.


So far, I have been reasonably tolerant of digital rights management and proprietary platforms which implement it, because I believe that actors in the market should be free to adopt whatever business model they believe best serves their customers and shareholders. I continue to believe that, but based upon my recent experiences with Apple, I no longer think that they can be entrusted with control over content purchased by their customers, and consequently, I shall never purchase anything from them again.

Update: Fixed, at least for me. (2008-04-29 20:54 UTC)

Posted at April 15, 2008 00:50