Reality Check: Apple Versus Apple and Other Stuff

May 9th, 2006

A British judge’s decision to allow Apple Computer to continue to use its logo on the iTunes Music Store, after a protracted legal battle, shows that the surviving Beatles are more out of touch than I expected. Now don’t get me wrong. In the 1960s, the four lads from Liverpool set the musical world afire, and their influence is felt even today, decades after they broke up.

However, their legal skirmishes with the computer company bearing the same name have become ridiculous, and I’m glad Justice Mann had the common sense to realize the true facts in the case, that using the Apple logo on the iTunes Music Store didn’t violate that 1991 agreement between the two firms. Of course, Apple Corps plans to appeal the case, which means that a pall will hang over the decision for some time to come. One only hopes the appeals process won’t be as protracted as the some cases in the U.S., where years may pass before a matter is resolved.

In the real world, I think Apple Corps should spend a little time surveying people just to see if they really confuse the computer company with the music company. Maybe they’d get the proper rude awakening and realize that they were wasting their time and money, even though I’m sure their goals were honest and above-board.

At the same time, the Beatles need to be brought into the 21st century. As you’ve probably heard, their music collection is evidently being remastered in preparation for digital downloads, and, perhaps, to sell newer and supposedly better versions of the CDs. Understand that I have purchased the entire collection of their works twice already. First it was LP, then CD. If I want to hear any of these songs on my iPod, I only have to rip the CD in iTunes, and then have it copied when I connect the player.

So I wonder just how many people truly want to buy yet another copy of the very same songs, although I’m sure that there will be lots and lots of publicity to try to get you to allocate a sufficient number of 99 cent purchases. I’m also wondering whether they’ll even allow you to buy individual tracks, since later Beatles albums are designed to be enjoyed as an integrated collection. There’s also the fear that the folks who manage Apple Corps will shoot themselves in the foot and prevent the biggest music download service from selling their product. You know, resentment and all that over the lingering legal matters.

Of course, Steve Jobs appears to have attempted to demonstrate the appropriate level of respect without gloating over the victory. After the decision was announced, he said, in a statement, “We are glad to put this disagreement behind us. We have always loved the Beatles, and hopefully we can now work together to get them on the iTunes Music Store.”

What it all demonstrates, however, is that Apple remains on a huge roll. So far this season, things are really moving in their favor. We have learned, for example, that Microsoft won’t meet future profit estimates, because of its battle with Google, and that Dell is encountering more and more difficulties making profits from its cheap PC boxes. And will Windows Vista suffer from yet another delay? I expect that it will, since there simply won’t be enough time after the next beta is released to finalize the product for manufacturing. I don’t have any inside information to offer, but I think that common sense is all you need to reach a proper conclusion. Besides, Microsoft is already going to miss the lucrative holiday season, so waiting a few more months won’t seem so bad. Or maybe they just want to let their customers down in baby steps.

On the other hand, I imagine lots of people doing IT work are probably happy they won’t have to confront a new version of Windows to debug for their companies. They are quite busy enough scrambling around and trying to stay a step ahead of viruses and other issues.

And to return to the music business. Isn’t it nice to know that the greedy music companies have come to realize that one price for all its individual tracks isn’t such a bad idea after all. I don’t know what Steve Jobs did to crack the whip and get these folks to face reality, but I’m glad he succeeded.

But this isn’t to say that I’m totally happy with the music store. You see, I’m still enough of a sound purist to fret over the quality of 128K AAC. Sure it may sound better than MP3, but it is surely not indistinguishable from a CD. You may not hear the difference with your iPod and the standard ear buds. But if you acquire a set of high quality headphones, and your hearing acuity hasn’t been wrecked by loud music, you will see where compressed music suffers, particularly with acoustic piano and other material that requires higher resolution.

I’d love to see Apple consider a high-bit version, say 192K or even 256K, at a slight premium, for folks who cherish quality as much as they cherish great performances. But I’m not going to take bets that it’ll ever happen.

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