In Apple’s DRM-free EMI music deal, the big loser may be Microsoft

Avril Lavigne“While Apple scored a public relations coup by offering EMI’s DRM-free tracks through iTunes, the company has also struck a major blow against Microsoft in a less obvious arena: music encoding standards,” Eliot Van Buskirk writes for Wired.

“In an early morning press release, EMI announced the immediate availability of its ‘digital repertoire’ in high-quality, DRM-free AAC format. The new tracks will be encoded at 256 Kbps, EMI officials said, instead of the 128 Kbps that most iTunes tracks use,” Van Buskirk writes.

Van Buskirk writes, “A large part of the news has to do with consumers’ excitement over the “unprotected” part of the equation, since DRM restrictions are often seen as onerous, unfair and contrary to the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law… Still, the removal of DRM is just one piece of the puzzle; of equal significance to the online music industry is EMI’s choice of AAC encoding.”

“While AAC is an industry standard, Apple has been its primary champion,” Van Buskirk writes. “…Apple’s iPod has long supported the AAC format, which is used by the ITunes Store.”

“That’s about to change, now that Apple and EMI have doubled down on AAC as their unprotected format of choice… Other music stores could start adopting the AAC format as well… Luckily for consumers and manufacturers, the audio decoder chips found in most MP3 players are already able to decode the AAC format, even if they don’t support it out of the box. By installing a simple firmware upgrade, users of most music players can upgrade their gadgets to support the files,” Van Buskirk writes.

Van Buskirk writes, “Now, developers and manufacturers have a big incentive to go with AAC rather than WMA, which could cut WMA out of the larger digital music ecosystem. Apple and EMI’s embrace of AAC spells an unlikely defeat for Microsoft at the hands of a technology that consumers didn’t really use until Jobs got his hands on it.”

Full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Chris M” for the heads up.]
AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) is, most simply, the successor to MP3. AAC is MPEG-4 audio; MP3 on steroids. A large part of the confusion over AAC is its name. If it was called “MP4,” the average person would easily grasp that it’s the the successor to MP3. It’s all in the name and “AAC” is horribly named. Unfortunately, the name “AAC” has unnecessarily confused the consumer (and many writers, analysts, and pundits) for years. More about AAC here.

As for DRM, it will continue to exist, as it’s necessary to protect subscription music – otherwise all of the songs offered by such services would be “free.” Such services really haven’t really caught on because people prefer owning their music instead of having to pay recurring fees in order to listen to rented tunes.

When it comes to TV shows and movies, however, we seen a much stronger case for subscription services due to the way such content is consumed. TV shows and movies are generally watched once or twice, as opposed to songs which are listened to over and over, so TV show and movies subscription services make a lot more sense than music subscription services.

Apple’s embrace of AAC is not an “unlikely defeat” for WMA, as WMA has been defeated by AAC, the defacto standard for legal online music sales, for years. Microsoft has been the big loser in this market for quite some time.

Related articles:
Apple: Higher quality 256 kbps AAC DRM-free music on iTunes Store coming in May – April 02, 2007
The de facto standard for legal digital online music files: Apple’s protected MPEG-4 Audio (.m4p) – December 15, 2004

27 Comments

  1. And by extension, this also makes QuickTime a big winner, too!

    it’s stunning how many smart moves Apple has made, based on a real strategy, vs. Microsoft’s knee-jerk, reactionary, if-we-throw-enough-money-at-it-and-wait-we-will-win mode of operation.

    MDN Magic Word: Take the BALL and run with it, Apple!

  2. Well, if they would finally ditch the riduclous name of AAC and go with MP4 then they probably would not have this problem. It’s not only a better codec but from a marketing standpoint a no brainer. People always respond to that sort of thinking.

    Unless there is some sort of legal reason to not use the name then by all means go for it.

  3. Microsoft is indeed a very big loser in all of this. Not only because this reduces WMA even more, but also because MS has been married to DRM from day one.

    Anything that is DRM-free completely runs against everything that Microsoft stands for. Without DRM, they can’t lock people in and make money off of them perpetually. They’ve managed to do it well with software (so far anyway), but with digital media, their plan has totally gone down in flames now. The digital media “war” between MS and Apple was over before it even really started, whether or not MS realizes it yet or not.

    As for MP3, that format makes no sense because the file sizes are larger and the quality isn’t as good when compared to AAC. It’s old technology, and AAC is the intelligent way to go now.

  4. What is changing here? Apple music store is still selling songs that can only be played on iPods. Or can you play them on other players as well? I mean without burning them on a disk first and then rip back to mp3s.

  5. “MP3 will probably re-emerge as more of a threat to AAC than WMA.”

    And wax will re-emerge as more of a threat to vinyl than CDs.

    Why would consumers begin to embrace an inferior sounding compression format?

  6. “What is changing here? Apple music store is still selling songs that can only be played on iPods. Or can you play them on other players as well?”

    DRM-free AAC files can be played back on any digital media player or computer platform (Mac, Windows, Linux) that can read AAC files, not just iTunes/iPods.

    AAC is not a proprietary file format (unlike WMA files for example).

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