Dear Steve, so you've reached the big one million mark. There were a lot of doubters, but I knew you could do it all along. The iPhone exemplifies Apple's “think different” attitude, and that has helped it to fill a need that was really being ignored. This is Apple's chance to introduce many people to its philosophy of creativity and ease-of-use. But that leads us to an obvious question: why on earth are you making it so hard to do something as typical (and potentially creative) as creating custom ring tones — not to even mention adding applications?
Don't get me wrong. I love my iPhone. I have been using it since June 29 (too bad I was not lucky enough to be a member of your A-list writers who got one to try out early), and as I have been constructing a long term review of it for OFB, I cannot help but think positive thoughts about it. The web is a delight on it and it is the first phone I ever bothered to check e-mail on. Although I still find myself using my iPod for my musical needs typically, I do enjoy the iPhone's excellent iPod capabilities.
Yet, for all of its capabilities, there has been a tiny little stumbling block that never existed on my old Nokia 3600 that served me well up until 2005, nor on my newer Sony Ericsson Walkman phone: ringtones. We all knew you would come through and let us get ringtones other than the few built in ones — how different could a guy think if he has the same ringtone as one million other iPhone users? — and you did. Steve, you even came up with a nifty and relatively inexpensive way to have ringtones from popular songs without being forced to take a specific sound byte from that song that everyone else already had. That is nice for people into that kind of stuff, but remember your loyal user base is a largely creative user base. We use iLife applications like iMovie to create really great films and, more to our present point, we use Garage Band to create our own music. I cannot buy track I made on GarageBand through the iTunes Store. That's the crux of the problem.
You see, I like to think different. For the last four years or so, I have done so by keeping my ringtone something highly unusual: a hymn. I do not know anyone else who uses a classical hymn for their ringtone, and so I always know when my phone is ringing. As a bonus, most people are amused by it if I forget to use the silent mode, something that would not be so true if I instead picked, say, a Nelly Furtado ringtone.
I know Apple has made the iTunes Store what it is by trying to find the fine line between concern for the publisher and concern for the end user, and I appreciate how ground breaking FairPlay was when it came out. But, remember how you pushed for DRM free music and then launched iTunes Plus earlier this year? Well, this whole battle with the ever updating iTunes releases that block user created ringtones seems like a big step back from all of that. You do not make iTunes users repurchase their CD's off the iTunes Store before they will play in iTunes or on an iPod, and you certainly do not prevent a person's Garage Band creations from being added to the iTunes library, so why should ringtones be any different?
Steve, I am not trying to be difficult. If all the other cell phone manufacturers did the same thing, I would understand — after all, even a company famous for rocking the boat cannot do so all the time lest the boat capsize. But, when phones coming from a partnership controlled by Sony, a company that is tied to a music label partnership, lets me use my own ringtone (not to mention use tunes straight from my Walkman library as ringtones), but Apple's phone does not, something seems wrong with the picture. Remember how everyone laughed at Sony's iPod competitors because they were often crippled with overly zealous controls aimed at keeping Sony's music revenues secure? Well, the shoe is on the other foot on ringtones and the iPhone.
Don't worry, I still love my iPhone. And I am typing this from my Mac, while thinking about grabbing my iPod. I am a firmly entrenched Apple user. I even own a little AAPL. But, how about giving us all a break and letting the iPhone's magic shine a little brighter by not being so snippy about ringtones? Oh, and while you are at it, how about that iPhone software development kit — I mean what would it really hurt?
Yours in Apple,
Timothy R. Butler is editor-in-chief of Open for Business.