Double Twist iTunes Destroyer?

by Janet Meyer Nov 21, 2006

By now you’ve probably read that Jon Johansen, also called “DVD Jon”, has developed a system that enables music downloaded from iTunes to play on devices other than iPods. It also allows iPod users to download music from other stores.

According to Times Online, Johansens’ new company, called Double Twist Ventures, plans to license the code to iTMS rivals.

Whether this is bad news for Apple is still up for debate. An article at suggests that it could be good news for rivals. Competing digital download stores could license the software, giving consumers the ability to purchase at their stores and still play the music on their iPods.

Competitors such as Zune could also profit. Consumers who like using iTunes could download from iTMS and put the music on their Zune player.

The question that comes up, of course, is how legal this is. Double Twist Ventures believes that it is. They are willing to defend themselves in court if necessary.

Apple has so far not said anything. They have threatened no court action. They might be waiting to see whether Double Twist Ventures really takes any business away before doing anything.

Double Twist might have more difficulty getting business than they think. Major players, such as Microsoft, likely prefer to have customers who use their devices also be forced to use their download site, just like Apple/iTunes. Smaller players might just play a wait-and-see game. They won’t want to be part of a potential lawsuit. This means they would not sign up with Double Twist until a decision has been made. If Apple doesn’t take this to court, there will be no legal decision.

Then again, it seems more likely that Apple will just work a way around this system. RealNetworks, Inc. has in the past offered songs that worked with iPods. Apple updated its software to block it rather than sue them. RealNetworks has restored compatibility again, just to have Apple update again.

Double Twist seems to think that this can happen with their code. That remains to be seen. points out another difficulty for Double Twist Ventures. Part of the success if iPod/iTunes is the tight integration that makes the device user-friendly. Most likely any service using Double Twist would not have that kind of tight integration. If it’s not easy to use, consumers won’t bother.

If you had your choice to download from any site using any player, would it make much of a difference to you? If everything integrates well, it could lead to even lower prices as consumers had the freedom to look anywhere for digital downloads.

Do you think Double Twist Ventures will take off, or do you think it’s one of those interesting ideas that won’t go anywhere? Do you think Apple will come up with an update that stops Double Twist in its tracks?

For me, none of this matters. My player is filled with music from CDs that I have bought. I don’t download. It’s not anything against digital download sites, it’s just a matter of personal preference.

For those of you who do download, though, would a system like this change your purchasing habits? What affect do you think it will have on iPod and iTunes?

So far I suspect that this is no real threat. I can perceive a time, though, when software can be made that offers easy integration for most combinations of players and digital download sites. At that point I wonder what will happen to DRM. It will also be interesting to see what effect it has on pricing and purchasing.


  • Personally, When I buy digital music I do so from the apple store. I trade MP3s with friends, some of whom use download sites.

    I think that your question is best answered not through personal preferences of a few people, but rather looking at the market in the abstract.

    One group of consumers owns other-party mp3 players and some of the people here will be motivated and aware of Double Twist. They’ll purchase the product. Another group—most likely a far larger group of people who like music but who don’t keep up on digital music trends—also own other-party players, and would like to use software like this, but just aren’t aware of the options or don’t believe that they have the computer skill / knowledge to use softaware such as this. Still others who own other-party players find that there music tastes/needs are satisfied through whatever channel they presently use (other sites, cd rips, friends, bittorrent, etc…) and really don’t care one way or another.

    As for iPod owners…. Here the brand loyalty and integration of the store with the device really play against double twist, as does the pricing policy and sheer variety of tunes. That said, there will be some owners who want to use other download purchase systems, and some of these owners will undoubtedly have the motivation, expertise and awareness of double twist, and will no doubt buy the software.

    I wouldn’t take lack of awareness / percieved skill set too lightly as a determining market factor. My own research shows that a significant number of iPod owners as well as people who plan to buy an iPod, are blissfully unaware of a number of basic capabilities of their own iPods, as well as features of the store. I’m talking about very simple things, such as burning and MP3 cd so as to strip out the DRM. For these people, the music they have, on the supercool iPod that they just purchased, is completely satisfactory, and they really don’t care to learn that much more, or do that much more, with their iPods.

    So, to sum up this rather lengthy tomb: The key market problems faced by Double Twist have to do not with the technical battle that is to going to ensue with Apple, but rather with the sheer inertia of market indifference that Double Twist is going to face.

    To a certain extent, Apple faces the same problem. The iTunes store is a smashing success, to be sure, but one its total sales against the sheer number of iPods out there and the staggering amount of storage that these iPods represent, very few people are making consistent use of the store, or care to make consistent use of the store. They are happy getting music through what ever channel they are making use of.

    Personally, I have over 6000 songs on my iPod, and more than 11 000 songs on a portable hard drive which serves as my iTunes server. (BTW, I run a G5 15” 1.5GHz PowerBook) I have purchased exactly 10 songs from the iTunes store, as well as PacMan for my 5G 60GB iPod—black grin Here in Canada downloading and sharing amongst friends is perfectly legal, although I don’t download. I rip my own stuff and I share mp3s with friends.

    rogueprof had this to say on Nov 21, 2006 Posts: 17
  • I can’t imagine that this will affect the iPod or iTunes in any noticeable way. I find it laughable that people talk about the iTunes/iPod lock in. If you do the math (number of songs divided by the number of iPods sold) the) the average comes out at like 20 songs/ipod. The truth is that the vast majority of music still comes from CD’s, or other people’s CD’s. Until that changes nobody will really care about DoubleTwist.

    As for wether or not it will benefit anyone? I’d say not yet. Today iTunes is in competition with CD prices. If it becomes the dominate delivery system for music, then it will be important for alternatives to exist and I’m sure they will. Both from companies like MicroSoft as well as from Phone carriers, and even possibly from some next generation XM type of system.

    Only one thing is certain in my mind. DRM will rule the day in the future. The content holders need to get a handle on how widely their products get distributed and DRM will give them that ability eventually.

    Doug Petrosky had this to say on Nov 21, 2006 Posts: 26
  • To me the unaswered question is how the DRM schemes are changed.  Is this a scheme that merely strips the DRM?  If so, wouldn’t the content providers have an interest and sue?  Apple doesn’t need the store revenue, with it’s miniscule profits, yet wants the iPod customer to have their needs well served.  It’s not a serious issue to update the DRM code for their content providers to maintain their support; however, should Double Twist have a more difficult system to circumvent I would expect both the content providers and Apple would sue.

    REB had this to say on Nov 21, 2006 Posts: 8
  • From the article:
    “For me, none of this matters. My player is filled with music from CDs that I have bought. I don’t download. It’s not anything against digital download sites, it’s just a matter of personal preference.”

    No disrespect intended, but how exactly does this qualify you to make judgements on this venture or the market climate that spawned it? If you don’t use any digital download service, you clearly don’t have a practical reason to care about interoperability between various services and players.

    Many people use online media retailers. But those retailers come and go—so do DRM schemes and the audio players and/or the software that are compatible with them. Take any one of those things out of the chain and you’re left with useless ones and zeroes instead of digital media that you paid for.

    Interoperability is good for the consumer. Period.

    mkozaqii had this to say on Nov 21, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Is this a scheme that merely strips the DRM?

    The DRM is there (regrettably) but the reverse engineering allows them to license Fairplay to other online music stores.

    Assuming this is legal, it means that every store who uses DRM could sell iPod compatible songs.  This can only be a good thing, IMO.  If Napster has a song that iTunes doesn’t, then you have the opportunity to get it without buy a whole CD at the store.  And for those who want the integration between the iPod and iTunes, then you can still use the iTunes store.

    And because this does not remove DRM, there is no complaint for the labels, who still get their DRM.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 21, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • There is no way any store in a WTO country is going to go out on a limb and buy into this. It’s financial and legal suicide. And any country where the copyright laws are suspect or unenforced, they’re not going to bother - like that store in Russia.

    Since you can legally remove the DRM, it’s like buying shrimp from the back of a pickup truck parked in front of the supermarket - you could save a few steps but what’s the point?

    I’ll bet the itune store purchasers break out like this - 10% who convert everything to DRM free tracks, 40% who like knowing they can convert at any time and 50% who don’t even know or care - they just like the fact they can plug in their ipod, click around and load it right up - instead of having to go to a store, park, look for a CD and then have to convert it themselves. The bottom line is a mediocre dinner at a restaurnt costs $75 for two and that’s fogotten in 2 days - so what if 75 songs are in a format - it’s all just disposable.

    Of course, there are vocal critics who cite a lot of stats and resolution and fidelity numbers but in the real world beyond us geeks, NOBODY CARES. The studios have probably sold $200 BILLION dollars worth of DVD’s - the fact that only about a small % of geeks know how to copy them has not held back sales or even made a difference.

    How many people can claim they have never lost or misplaced a CD or DVD they’ve bought?

    jbelkin had this to say on Nov 21, 2006 Posts: 41
  • I think this has greater potential outside the US. Apple says it won’t sell tunes in Asia… maybe a DoubleTwist store will. In the US you can get your music from Apple at a fair rate, so the appeal of going elsewhere is far less.

    However… take a look at movies. Apple only has Disney films at present. What would happen if Amazon sold DoubleTwist versions of their movies that play on iTunes, iPods, and iTV? This is where it starts getting more interesting and likely to make an impact.

    Apple could stop DoubleTwist working, and that’s where my fear would stop me buying movies. But what about rental? What happens when a online video-rental (VoD) outfit uses DoubleTwist? I would be more than happy to rent a video for 3 days which automatically removed itself… what would I care if Apple stops the playback from working in a month?

    (ps. All of the above is about stores selling songs/movies that play on iTunes/iPod/iTV, not about playing iTMS songs on Zune.. I didn’t think DoubleTwist allowed that…)

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Nov 21, 2006 Posts: 228
  • I think “rogueprof” hit the nail on the head—the majority of consumers won’t be aware that this option is / will be available, and thus it will likely have little impact on the overall market.

    The last thing Apple would want to do is draw attention to the technology by litigating. Apple’s move to combat this may be to sit tight and do nothing. If DoubleTwist can’t attract any customers to their technology (because they’d shy away from the potential legal hurdles), DoubleTwist will quietly fall into unprofitable obscurity.

    I’m not saying it’s not an interesting or valuable technology… but being interesting or valuable often does not translate easily into being profitable (as the dot-com bust taught us all).

    vb_baysider had this to say on Nov 21, 2006 Posts: 243
  • (ps. All of the above is about stores selling songs/movies that play on iTunes/iPod/iTV, not about playing iTMS songs on Zune.. I didn’t think DoubleTwist allowed that…)

    Actually, it does allow that. Double Twist has software to work both ways.

    Janet Meyer had this to say on Nov 21, 2006 Posts: 36
  • the majority of consumers won’t be aware that this option is / will be available, and thus it will likely have little impact on the overall market.

    That’s true, but it’s digital download companies that would be interested in a program like this. That way the could advertise downloads that would work on your iPod.

    Conversely, companies like MS could purchase it in order to market the Zune player to iTMS users.

    I think the potential legal troubles might make them shy away. I don’t actually think MS would go for it, either, because they want consumers to use their whole system. Smaller MP3 makers might be interested, though.

    Janet Meyer had this to say on Nov 21, 2006 Posts: 36
  • Smaller MP3 makers might be interested, though.

    The biggest potential market seems to be online music stores.  Right now, they are locked out of the iPod/iTunes monopoly, and this would give them instant access to 75% of the market.

    Assuming it survives the legal challenge.  If and when it does, then things could get very interesting.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 21, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • I don’t think this will matter much to Apple.  While I can see why DVD Jon does this, I really can’t see why he does not instead spend his time and talent on creating a new product.  I take it its much harder to to do that, so he spends his time on where he can make money easily.

    On the other hand Apple has created this market for itself, it took it away from Creative, settled with creative and has done much to its credit, where as I can’t say the same for DVD Jon.

    holyc2a had this to say on Nov 22, 2006 Posts: 1
  • The biggest potential market seems to be online music stores.  Right now, they are locked out of the iPod/iTunes monopoly

    Except that you are wrong—they are not… MP3s work just peachy with an iPod (they even advertise it in big bold letter on their home page).

    It is only online stores that choose to use the Microsoft “PlaysForSure” DRM that can’t be played on an iPod.

    Don’t confuse the issue by saying they’re “locked out”. They are not locked out. You keep repeating this “fact” as if it were true. Those online stores chose to use the Microsoft DRM which they know is incompatible with the iPod… Why should Apple be required to pay Microsoft’s PlaysForSure licensing fee just to appease them?

    So now these online stores are going to purchase a technology that allows users to break the PFS DRM they imposed in the first place?

    Doubtful. They’d be better off just abandoning PlaysForSure altogether since that’s what Microsoft is doing.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Nov 24, 2006 Posts: 243
  • They’d be better off just abandoning PlaysForSure altogether since that’s what Microsoft is doing.

    Once again, vb, you demonstrate a Houdini-like ability to stick your head up your own ass (or Steve Jobs’s, but that isn’t nearly as impressive a feat).

    eMusic sells music from independent labels and artists.  These are DRM-free because the indie labels and artists, to their credit, don’t require it.  But they also represent less than 20% of available music.  It’s a great service but it’s, quite frankly, stuff almost no one has ever heard of.

    The major labels own the other 80%.  So if online music stores want to sell mainstream artists, the kind of stuff the iTunes store sells, then they have to play by the major labels’ rules.  And the major label rules require DRM.

    So for them, your Napsters and your Rhapsodies, they have to use the DRM that is supported by the music players they are selling to.  They would LOVE to sell music to iPod users, but Apple refuses to let them.  So the rest of the market worked with MS for a license that worked with everything else.

    So you can pretend it’s not a “lock out” (reality was never your strong suit), but that’s exactly what it is.  And to justify this kind of monopoly abuse by Apple as a “choice” by the other vendors is to justify ANY monopoly abuse.  But we all know you would never make such a pathetic apologist excuse for MS or any other company.  That’s what makes you a Mactard.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 24, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • You are totally forgetting your history, however.

    Those online stores originally chose Plays For Sure to lock out Apple. If you recall in the past, Microsoft thought Apple’s Quicktime codecs were getting too large a share of the market for Microsoft’s comfort.

    If you would take a moment to get your own head out of your ass, you’d recall that Apple was one of the major players strongly pushing for MPEG-4 to be adapted as an open standard (well before there was an iTunes Store).

    Because Microsoft didn’t want an open standard, they specifically developed the Windows Media and the Plays For Sure DRM to lock out Apple and the other MPEG-4 supporters. You couldn’t even play DRM’d Windows Media files with Windows Media Player for Macintosh. They could have very easily come to the table to make an agreement for an open standard like the Movie/DVD companies did with the CSS DRM… but they didn’t. (Real was also torpedoing the MPEG-4 effort because they wanted their own standard with their Helix DRM).

    Microsoft wanted control of all the digital audio/video market and they lined up many companies behind them to make Plays For Sure the defacto standard. They wanted all MP3 players to use Plays For Sure.  Apple said, “Screw that” and for good reason.  So they developed their own DRM… This was before the iTunes Store and way before they controlled the MP3 player market.

    You throw around the words “monopoly abuse” as if you know what they mean, but clearly you have no clue. Other music services preceeded the iTunes Music Store, but Apple didn’t want to pay Plays For Sure licensing fees to Microsoft, so they left Windows Media support out of the iPod.

    Now, if the Microsoft-supporting music services had come to Apple early on in the life of those first generation iPods, and said “Hey, how can we support your product?” history might have been different. Remember the iTunes Store didn’t debut until version 4 in 2003, 2 years after the iPod / iTunes was introduced in 2001!

    Music services (like Rhapsody around since 2001) had over 2 years to provide a solution for Apple and the iPod… 2 years! ... before Apple introduced the iTunes Store.

    You can’t abuse a monopoly if you don’t have one, and before 2003, Apple DID NOT HAVE AN iTunes/iPod MONOPOLY, not even close. So how is it that they “locked out” those other music stores by abusing a monopoly that didn’t exist?

    Get your facts straight before you spout bullshit as truth.

    So, again, why should Apple be forced to pay Microsoft DRM fees? Just because you’re a big whiner?

    It’s a great service but it’s, quite frankly, stuff almost no one has ever heard of.

    Right, becuase NO ONE has ever heard of Barenaked Ladies, Ray Charles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Alice Cooper, The Donnas, Judas Priest…

    Yes, I understand you’re not going to find the UMG portfolio on there, but if UMG had their way, there would be NO online distribution of any music what so ever… But that’s beside the point.

    The point is, other music services had their chance to work with Apple well before Apple has a “lock”, as you put it, on distribution.

    In conclusion, if, instead of playing the Microsoft game, the Plays For Sure partner companies had demanded a DRM standard (similar to CSS) not controlled by Microsoft, but able to be used by any company, they might have had a bigger piece of the online music pie today. If they had done that, we might have had a single DRM for all online music.

    But they didn’t… So screw them. They made their bed with Microsoft instead of supporting open standards, and now they have to lie in it.

    Two years later, Apple decided to take their own DRM road and reaped the rewards of good design and ease of use… not because they abused some non-existent monopoly.

    Stop misusing the term to “prove” you are right. You aren’t. You are so wrong, it’s not even funny.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Nov 24, 2006 Posts: 243
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