Macworld Guessing: iPhone Tethering, iTunes Goes DRM-Free

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Apple is expected to announce a $30-a-month iPhone tethering plan from AT&T and will also drop all DRM from its iTunes Music Store in what is the rumor du jour. Using the iPhone as a modem and copy-protection-free songs from the iTunes Store are not a new idea by a long shot, but the move is set to bring these highly requested features to consumers without the need of them to fiddle illegally (read jailbreak) with their phone.

Various sources speculating around the Macworld Expo this week, say that Apple will announce a 5GB data cap, $30-a-month (on top of your existing AT&T iPhone price plan) iPhone-as-modem feature, so that users can connect from their laptops to the Internet via their iPhone. The expected price plan could be quite expensive on top of the usual iPhone data plan, however, it is cheaper than an EV-DO or HSDPA card plan, usually around $60-a-month.

In related news, it is also rumored that Apple will offer all songs from the iTunes Music Store (ITMS) without any copy protection software attached. The move is said to come following deals with the three largest music labels (Sony BMG, Universal and Warner Music) in exchange of Apple becoming more flexible on pricing. In order, ITMS could be split into three price categories as following: catalog songs (older hits for $0.79), midline songs (new songs but not highly popular for $0.99), and top hits (for over $1).

IPhone users were able to use their phone as a modem for a while now, but only if they had jailbroken their device. A legal application was briefly available in the AppStore as well, but Apple retracted it shortly after its launch. With the expected tethering plan, which is the same AT&T deal currently offered to Blackberry clients, users will be able to use their iPhone as a modem, probably using an official application from Apple or AT&T.

The iTunes Music Store also offered DRM-free (Digital Rights Management) songs for some time, but just from the EMI record label, which accounts for only 10 percent of the store's total sales in the U.S. In addition to the complete DRM removal from the ITMS, Apple is also said to allow iPhone users to acquire songs using their cell network connection. So far, iPhone owners were able to download songs wirelessly from their phone only using a Wi-Fi connection.

Though only speculation at this point, it seems that if the rumors are true Apple is finally caving in to user demands in terms of functionality and flexibility. But this doesn’t mean that it will come cheaply.

Tethering your iPhone by now (legal or not) was basically free, without any additional cost, unlike the expected $30-a-month plan. Same with the ITMS: prices didn’t go up for a song ever since the store launched in 2002. In comparison, a $0.99 song in 2002 would be worth almost $1.20 today, so besides covering the inflation, Apple and the record labels would gain more money for a new song, in exchange of us having the songs without DRM.

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