Not yet there: the problems with mobile apps and media
There was a time when the word 'ecosystem' referred exclusively to the environmental version, describing the interdependent parts of a biome. Today that term has been expanded to modern electronics.
No longer are our devices lone islands that reach out into the void for content. Today they're supported by an array of services, perhaps most importantly those from the manufacturer that provide content to the user. That content spans typically spans a range of apps, music, movies, and television shows, and can include additional media like books, magazines, and more.
The smartphone could function without the connections into these media pipelines, just as the gazelle can function just fine on a diet of grass alone. But throw in a few bushes with additional nutrients - or stores that open up movies and apps and music - and you're off to the races.
But our ecosystems are hobbled by old systems digital, legal, and emotional. How do we move them forward, breaking the chains and allowing them to truly run free?
There’s no good reason for regional content restrictions
In 2013, the phrase “global economy” may be tossed around a lot but make no mistake about it: copyright and licenses are still bound by nation-states. While such nuanced discussions may often be a bore, when it comes to the stores that sell this content - especially media - the topic is very much at the forefront of their minds.
Users around the world often face vast discrepancies when trying to buy music or have access to movies, even when money is willing to be exchanged. So who’s at fault? Consumers go right for the service provider: Microsoft, Google or Apple; placing all blame at their feet. Is that fair? Yes and no.
The general consumer doesn’t really don't care whose fault it is.
Ultimately, a company must stand behind their product, even if it has holes. If your company puts out a service and it’s lacking due to something that is out of your hands, you still need to take the blame. The general consumer is going to blame the retailer anyway, as they're the only part of the chain with which they interact, and they really don't care whose fault it is.
The reality is of course much more complicated than that. It’s not that the retailers are purposefully or ignorantly reducing their media offerings. You can be assured, if they could offer everything to everyone, they would. More products to more customers means more sales.
The problem lies in who owns what. In this case, who owns the rights to a band’s music, or a movie’s distribution. It’s not uncommon that film studios or large music acts have a number of licensed distributor middlemen across the world. They may fall under the same name and have the same corporate leadership, but in the eyes of the law they're separate companies.
Thus they require separate contracts, and the retailers has to negotiate with each for a distribution agreement in the applicable regions. In other words, there’s a lot of legal work to be done in order to offer these services. Some companies will easily negotiate deals, others will resist.
When Microsoft, Google or Apple offer such multimedia services, they’re the ones responsible for its content. Consumers simply don’t have the time or energy to navigate the vast labyrinth of legalese and regional restrictions. And they shouldn't have to. The only thing that will force the change is the continued push by consumers to demand access to these works.
I think you should be able to say "I'm going on airplane, I bought the rights to it, store it right now!"
- Guy English / Developer, Host of Debug
Let me pay how I want to pay
Show me the money! No, wait, show me the payment options! That might sound odd, because payment options are almost entirely about taking your money and not making you money, but honestly, if you want to buy something and the person selling it can’t or won’t take your money, it’s a real problem. And it’s a problem for everyone.
Apple and Amazon love to talk about how many credit cards they have on file and in how many countries they can accept one-click credit card payments. And that’s fine, as far as it goes. iTunes certainly helped Apple scale the App Store internationally very quickly, and content deals in a ton of countries certainly helped make both iOS and Kindle interesting to people who want a lot of media.
Not everyone, everywhere has access to a credit card.
But the simple fact remains that not everyone, everywhere has access to a credit card. That’s why, especially internationally and in emerging markets, it’s critical to have options. Otherwise no credit card, no sale, and your fabulous device just got really boring, really quickly.
In addition to credit cards, PayPal is a must. Sure, a lot of people don’t like Paypal and their policies, but it’s pretty much ubiquitous at this point. Throw in Stripe, Square, and whatever other competitors come out in the mobile space as well. The more the merrier when it comes to money.
What’s really important, though, is the inclusion of carrier billing. Even in places where people don’t have credit cards and don’t have Paypal, in order to have a phone they still have to have a carrier and that makes carrier billing a solid default option, and sometimes the only one. Instead of paying though a phone, paying with a phone has to be there. It just has to.
Bitcoin? Sure, why not! I’d actually be curious to see which app store starts taking them first.
In general, if I’m offering up my money for apps, music, movies, etc., then I should be able to pay using whatever method I want (within reason - I don't see Apple accepting bushels of wheat in exchange for the latest Daft Punk album any time soon). While that’s true to some extent today, it needs to be even more true tomorrow.
Phil NickinsonAndroid Central
The Wild West of third-party app stores reborn
Kids today have it so good. They probably don’t recall the Wild West days of apps, back when none of the platforms had their own app stores. Long before iTunes. Way before Google Play and BlackBerry World. Back then, we had to hunt and gather our own apps, from individual websites, load them over a pitifully slow sync cable, uphill both ways. It was awful.
Then came along a few fledgling app stores that would get a handful of developers on board. Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and Palm benefitted from this, but these were not on-device app stores, and there was no quick and easy download and install method.
And then iTunes and its non-Apple compatriots nearly killed them all. It was a bloodbath.
That’s not to say there aren’t any third-party app stores out there. Some countries (thinking of China specifically) do their own thing. And Amazon actually has done pretty well for itself with the off-the-Android-reservation Amazon Appstore. Same apps, different ecosystem, with checks in place to keep things safe and malware-free.
That’s the biggest worry when it comes to not using the “official” app stores for the various platforms. Safety and security. Who’s taking your money? And what are you getting in return? How easy is it to dispute charges? What about a refund policy?
If it’s not on the device when you turn it on, it might as well not be there.
And most important, how easy is it to use? At this point, if it’s not on the device from the moment you turn it on, it might as well not be there. Amazon has done OK with that -- for the Kindle line, it’s already on the tablets -- but it’s a growth limiter.
That’s not to say that app stores acting independently from their respective platforms can’t provide safe and secure places from which to download apps. But who would you trust at this point?
Bound by the shackles of DRM
DRM. Digital Rights Management. What it really translates into, however, is fear. It’s meant to ensure that content providers -- previously record labels, now movie, television, and app makers -- don’t get ripped off. That we, the people, don’t enjoy their stuff without paying for it. It's a reasonable concept.
In the real world DRM more often than not stops real, paying customers from enjoying the stuff they paid for or want to pay for, more than it stops real, widespread, illegal use.
Once upon a time, mp3 swapping services became so popular they threatened the old CD-focused music industry with bankruptcy. But instead of figuring out a way to strap a cash register onto this new digital reality, the labels freaked out and drove it underground.
Instead of figuring out how to cash in on this new digital reality, the labels freaked out.
Then came Apple, who convinced them that the only way to compete with free was with fair and easy. iTunes was born. But the labels insisted on DRM. Out of fear of iTunes's power they eventually let go of DRM - for iTunes’ competitors - and then, finally for iTunes itself.
Hollywood isn't there yet. Thanks to DRM, I can’t use my Pioneer receiver because, despite fully legal parts and content, my TV detects it as non-HDCP (High Definition Copy Protection) compliant. I can’t watch The Avengers Blu-ray on my PlayStation 3 because, despite the disc being 100% legit, it demands some new decryption keys be downloaded, but can't. I can’t go a month without my Apple TV or my Mac telling me I’m not authorized to watch something I absolutely should be authorized to watch. And I can’t turn on the internet without seeing some report about Nintendo or Microsoft or Sony incomprehensibly treating their customers like criminals and making it insanely difficult to simply enjoy the stuff we’ve already paid for.
Their fear is so great, it’s hard to imagine anything less than an extinction level event - something that threatens the old, entrenched, executives with the end of their business as they know it - before anything significant changes.
Then the iTuneses and Netflixes and others can come along and offer what they already know how to offer so well: disintermediated content, fairly priced and ubiquitously available.
I don’t see DRM disappearing any time soon. But I do hope it’s obsoleted.
I think we want better DRM, not necessarily less DRM.
-Alex Dobie / Managing Editor, Android Central
What's most responsible for holding back our ecosystems today? As it would turn out, it's the group that would benefit the most from unleashing the ecosystem's full power: the content providers. Having seen the near destruction of the music industry when slow-to-adapt executives clashed with eager and possibly naive listeners who shared their tunes for free online without a second thought, movie studios, book publishers, and even some app developers have swung with the pendulum too far to the other end.
The motivation behind DRM is understandable, if misguided. Of course, it makes sense to protect the content your selling from being easily passed around with no financial gain for you. You're in the business of making money, after all. But when those protections get in the way of actually using the content. From hardware encoding to simply refusing to sell certain content in certain regions, it's the potential customer that gets shafted.
This mess hurts consumers. It hurts the manufacturers, as the consumer blames the only step in the chain they interact with: the people who make and support their devices. And it hurts the person who made the content and is all wrapped up in protecting it - they're creating unnecessary complications and denying themselves revenue.
The music industry recovered and is prospering with DRM-free mp3s. What will it take to overcome the entrenched mindsets and practices that are holding everything back?