Apple: Cross Platform DRM

As predicted, Apple introduced a version of iTunes for windows today. A lot will be written about how this solidifies Apple’s lead in the digital music player market but what many may be overlooking is how Apple is pushing its own version of Digital Rights Management into a wider market. I suspect this is a strategy similar to the one they used in the early 1990s to make QuickTime a strong contender for digital video.

While companies from Intel to Microsoft are talking about how they plan to implement digital rights in the future and are taking tentative steps in that direction, Apple is working on a strategy that covers multiple platforms beginning today. The iTunes music store may be an interesting story in terms of the consumer market but it seems to me that there is also an interesting play at hand for a business to business model. If Apple succeeds in its implementation of the music store (and there is little doubt that they will), they could turn around and start offering a set of products and services to organizations dealing in digital goods.

I believe that the iTunes music store will eventually drop the music part of its name in the future, when video becomes the thing to download. The underlying data structure already points to Apple’s ambition to move into other media format. So let’s look into the future…

As broadband becomes more pervasive, video becomes an attractive thing to download. At that point, Apple start offering TV shows and movies in a store similar to the Apple music store. They can then decide that there are areas they want to play in (read: where they want to manage the store) and other areas where they might want to offer customized system. Showing the iTunes music store as a proof of concept of their way to do DRM, they approach large studios and/or labels. From there, they can show that their store is running on Apple hardware and runs a server version of their operating system. Much like they are packaging streaming solutions with that software, they could start package digital rights management solutions.

So who’s the market here? Well, for starters, Apple is probably not going to want to create too much competition with its business to consumer segment so I think looking at movie studios may not be the right thing to do. However, they could look at TV stations, both in the US and abroad and start offering on-demand video services, wrapping QuickTime (as a streaming format) into their own proprietary DRM flavor. Going beyond that market, they could also look at the corporate market for companies that want to do internal presentations but ensure that only certain groups have access to certain presentations.

Another potential direction for Apple would be to look at software delivery. Using their proprietary DRM and an infrastructure similar to the one powering the Apple music store, they could deliver software packages either on a per-use basis, or as complete package. Now that they have crossed the divide between the mac market and the windows PC market, there are a lot of potentials for them to figure out how to mine the field.

Bottom line: Apple now has a strong cross-platform offering for distributing protected data. As the early lead in the market, they now have potentials to expand a lot beyond the world they run in.

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