CTIA: Usability Lessons From A Hacker

I spent some time at CTIA yesterday with Jon Lech Johansen and Monique Farantzos of DoubleTwist, a company which makes a media-sharing app and service. You might know Johansen better as DVD Jon, made famous by his cracking the content-scrambling system used as copy protection on DVDs. Since then, he’s cracked a number of other DRM systems, such as Windows Media and Apple’s FairPlay. The point of Jon’s work wasn’t to enable people to get free content; it’s to remove the pointless restrictions that keep people from enjoying the media they’ve legally purchased in the manner and on the device they want. Jon says his past work was aimed at geeks, but with DoubleTwist, he’s bringing it to the mass-market.

DoubleTwist aims to make sharing media as easy as using email, where compatibility problems generally don’t exist. You send somebody an email, and they receive it, regardless of what device or service they’re using. Contrast that to the world of content: copy protection and a mess of formats make sharing files, even among a user’s own devices, a headache.

The upshot of DoubleTwist for mobile is that it takes the fuss out of syncing. Assuming you have a compatible device, you connect it to your PC, and sync your media to your heart’s content. You don’t have to worry about file formats, DRM, or other issues — the application does all the thinking and heavy lifting.

Isn’t that how syncing and sharing should work? Instead, we’re left with a mess of incompatibility thanks to DRM and proprietary formats as device manufacturers, operators, music retailers and others either seek to lock users in with copy protection, or remain stupidly unaware of how hard their products are to use.

DoubleTwist’s desktop app is currently available for Windows, and a Mac version is forthcoming; it currently supports some S60, Windows Mobile, Sony Ericsson and LG phones with more in the works. Watch this space — hopefully a device maker or perhaps even an operator will realize they should be making things easier, not more difficult, for their customers and license DoubleTwist’s technology.

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