Garrett (garote) wrote,

A few scattered thoughts on DRM, apps, and ecosystems

A large contingent of people - producers and consumers - eventually realized that the solution to the industry-versus-piracy problem, with music, was to abandon DRM and instead chase the piracy out of the market by offering something easier to find, easier to get, and easier to play.

I wonder, how does this contingent feel about piracy of software then?

The story of DRM on software is long and twisty, including things like proprietary ROM cartridges, weird disk sectors, and hidden codes printed in paper manuals. These days, no physical media is required at all, so those old methods don't work. It's all encryption-based. This makes it equivalent to what music is now: Infinitely copyable for virtually no cost.

On portable devices, the potential arena for app piracy is gigantic, and there is a thriving piracy sector, but users in general are turning to it less than their PC forebears, and DRM on smartphones has been a huge shot of cash into the arm of the software industry. Coders are more in-demand, and paid more, than ever.

Say you purchased Angry Birds on your iPhone, and now you own an Android device. You have to purchase Angry Birds again. You fully expect your DRM-less music to be interoperable. Why not your apps?

Perhaps the difference is the perception of an ecosystem.

That is, we (and by "we" I mean a large majority of the userbase) expect music to have portability because almost all music playback devices are perceived to be one ecosystem, whereas smartphones are perceived to be multiple ecosystems divided by operating system.

Why do people have this perception, though? Isn't it a matter of time before this perception changes?

Back in the day, if you bought Photoshop for the PC, you were expected to buy it again for the Mac, even if you only used one at a time. Now, you "subscribe" to Adobe's software and they treat the platforms interchangeably. If Adobe can do it, why not everyone else? Because cross-platform software development is "too hard" to justify pay-once-play-anywhere?

That's no excuse. It's hard to develop a great modern website as well, but your work is judged to be clearly defective if it doesn't run on almost every device around, regardless of platform. Is it so hard to port Angry Birds from iOS to Android that the user MUST pay twice? No, not in my opinion. Not after all the other transitions I've seen in my 25 years in this industry.

The only real reason this doesn't happen is something else: App stores want their cut.

I assert that the perception of multiple ecosystems for software is going to rapidly disintegrate, and the only resistance will come from app-store middlemen.

Or put another way, it is in the direct interest of companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft to make software as easy as possible to license on their own platform while simultaneously making it as hard as possible to move that license to another, and we are all rapidly coming to the point where we (software developers) will need to fight them, quite hard, for the sake of our own userbase.
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