Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Removing features you thought you bought - Are there legal issues?

One of the interesting things that is coming out of Apples new subscription program which I just wrote about here, is the idea that features that you thought you bought can go away. Because Apple is now requiring that subscription services pay Apple 30% of revenues, many of those services will be unable to operate on the iPhone platform.

The idea that features of web services could go away has always been a potential issue, thought it is rarely something that happens. But I am not aware of this ever happening with a physical piece of hardware you have purchased.

In Apple's recent announcement, they have made it clear that book services such as Amazon Kindle, and music subscription services such as Spotify, Rdio, Slacker and pandora, will, effectively, not be able to operate on the iPhone going forward, even for current users. So what that means is that you bought a device, potentially to use a specific set of features, and those features may actually *go away*.

This is a significant step in terms of how we think of our devices. This blending of software services with hardware, while it has many benefits, has some dangers that I had never considered. For civilians that don't spend all day thinking about such things, what are *they* to think when one of their favorite products or services ceases to work anymore. Particularly when they have another year and a half left on their AT&T contract.

The contract issue is interesting because the user is committed to the carrier, but neither the carrier nor Apple is committed to continue to offer the services that the customer believed they were getting when they bought the device. I wonder if there is not some substantive legal issue for people who believed their contracts guaranteed them access to certain services, only to be cut off. In a certain sense there are issues here which relate to the underlying concepts of net neutrality.

I am not sure what to make of all of this, but my sense is that there are some significant issues that the government may be interested in.


  1. It's doubtful. Apple did not provide the third-party features that might be removed.

  2. FWIW, Sony has a similar issue facing them after a PS3 firmware update removed the OtherOS capability. The two issues differ in many ways - both the methods (changing firmware vs changing contract) and the number of people and services affected (only a small minority cared about OtherOS, I think) - but at least it's an interesting parallel.

  3. Mike,

    No, they just effectively are blocking the features. This has become a big issue in the net neutrality debate. In the context of net neutrality ISPs cant prevent certain types or certain customers from doing business across their pipe. Here, Apple is blocking publishers (because they have made the economics money losing in some cases). So while apple is not providing the services, they are preventing them from being delivered.

  4. Reminds me of "1984" being deleted from user's Kindles.

    I just sent an email to one of my primary providers of a cloud based system I was in the process of rolling out. They distribute a mobile version that plugs into our 3d building models through the App Store. They are reviewing either pricing or discontinuing that variant-after I already purchased 10 iPads specifically to run the systm.

  5. The app store license agreement is 36 pages of text that no one has ever read. I'm guessing Apple has covered their ass in their somewhere.

    Doesn't make it right or good, but it is almost certainly what the user agreed to.

  6. If I sign up for a TV subscription that I must agree to a contract for, and a show that I watched gets cancelled, that's effectively the same. I think it's safe to say that the carrier is selling bandwidth and apple is selling a device with certain properties. I see your point, but I think it's a little too nuanced to be a practical point of legal issue, but IANAL


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.