In the war between oysters (solutions and their vendors that are sealed shut) and shuckers (those who like to pry the oysters open), Apple would like you to believe that its a shucker. But, its iPhone proves otherwise. If the iPhone were open (and Apple was a shucker), you'd be able to buy one, unlock it (a ridiculous yet discreet step that's the equivalent of having a boot removed from a new car), and attach it to any network you'd like. Or at least any network that the internal radios are compatible with (we won't blame Apple or any other phone maker because their GSM-flavored radios won't connect to CMDA-flavored networks, or vice versa). But, that of course isn't the case. As most know by now, much to the chagrin of T-Mobile (with whom the iPhone's radio is compatible, but not easily connected), AT&T is Apple's chosen partner. It's a decidedly oysteresque business strategy.
Likewise, in what is a reflection of a larger trend in the cell phone market, Apple makes it difficult to get your iPhone ringtones from a source other than its iTunes Music Store (iTMS) where they cost 99 cents. Many wireless carriers erect similar barriers to putting your own ringtones into the phones they resell (even though the phone manufacturer may have originally designed such a capability into the phone). That's because the real money for the carriers is in the value-added services that drive-up ARPU (average revenue per user) and one of the most profitable services is the ringtone business. In fact, one of the most absurd things about ringtones is how, for 2 or more dollars, you can get a crappy 30 second clip of the same favorite song that you can buy the real version of, in its entirety, for 99 cents. Go figure.
Anyway, the ringtone lock-in is also decidedly oysteresque in nature. Yesterday, the Register's Cade Metz wrote:
But Apple and its music partners see this penumbra a little differently. Legally, you can't convert an iTunes song into a ringtone without paying that extra 99 cents. iTunes's end user licensing agreement forbids you from doing otherwise, and this trumps any notion of fair use.
But, proving that for every oyster, there's a shucker, the last week has not been good for Apple and maybe all those oysters should be looking at this as a case study on whether or not it makes sense to continue on as oysters. Or, should they start shucking? Yesterday for example, Jason Chen published on Gizmodo the 8 ways to get ringtones onto your iPhone. And, there's been no shortage of coverage on the Internet regarding two newly released iPhone unlocking procedures. As stated earlier, by virtue of Apple's exclusive partnership with AT&T, iPhones come with a, how shall I say this?.... a predisposition to working only on AT&T's network.
However, thanks to some shuckers who found this to be a bit too oysteresque for their liking, iPhones can now be attached to any GSM-flavored carrier's network (here or in Europe). Yesterday, fellow ZDNet blogger Jason O'Grady published a piece on iPhoneSimFree.com's $100 unlocking solution, only to be followed moments later by a free open source version that's a means to the same end (and technically, it represents a shuck of the $100 version -- Engadget has the inside story)
Apple is no stranger to getting shucked. Every time it rewires the DRM technology (FairPlay) that protects iTMS purchased music (to undo some shucker's work), it's just a matter of time before the new version gets shucked again. The same happened to Microsoft and it's DRM technology. In the bigger picture, I can't imagine how the expense of staying an oyster is justifiable. But so long as they think it is, the cat and mouse game (or should I call that the oyster and shucker game) will continue.