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Is Apple in danger of losing its following?

With Apple releasing threats of 'bricked' iPhones and Amazon's music download service making its debut, Don Reisinger can't help but wonder if Apple is heading down a slippery slope.

When the iPhone first hit store shelves, Apple was on top of the world. Not only did the company enjoy the biggest product release of the year, its stock price was on the rise, Mac sales were soaring and, for the first time, it looked like Apple might be able to supplant Dell and HP as the proven leader in the hardware business.

The Great Unlockable CNET

But just a few months later, it's amazing how quickly things have changed. Mac sales are still strong, but the iPhone has become the topic of heated debate, Apple has come under fire for dropping the iPhone price too early and too substantially, and its iTunes Store is under attack from content producers and new, formidable competitors.

Could it be that Apple has lost its touch and is doomed to follow the path of Microsoft--loved, highly regarded, then utterly hated? Will the Mac faithful finally lose confidence in the company it feels so strongly about? Even worse, will Apple's two big moneymakers--the iPhone and iTunes--meet an early demise? It could happen.

The iPhone nightmare?
Since the iPhone's release, I and over a million others rushed to stores to get our hands on the year's hottest device. And while it may have done everything some people wanted, others found that while it was a great device, it needed additional functionality. For that reason, users began to hack the iPhone and make it do the things they wanted.

As I've mentioned before, there is certainly no crime in hacking an iPhone and as an avid AppTapp user, I've done it myself. And while Apple did not specifically threaten those people who hacked their iPhones, it did fire a warning shot at those who unlocked their iPhones in saying that a future software update will render an unlocked iPhone useless.

If Apple decides to follow through with this threat and release a software update that will "brick" the iPhone, the company should be ready for an extremely hostile user base and ramifications that will affect every device it produces. Some are naive enough to think that Apple can do no wrong and its cult following will stick with it through thick and thin, but I disagree. If Apple decides to brick iPhones, no one will be its friend.

But then again, there will always be some who claim Apple was forced to do it by AT&T and it should be doing it, but I think that's pure rubbish. If Apple releases a software update that will brick iPhones, it has nothing to do with AT&T loyalty and everything to do with making as much money as possible through questionable practices.

At this point, no one really knows if Apple will release a future software update that will brick iPhones, but I can guarantee you that if it does, the PR crisis that will ensue will far outweigh the price drop debacle.

So, Apple, if you want to play hardball, be my guest. But realize that if you follow through with this ridiculous threat and you become the company that bricks unlocked phones, you will surely face the wrath of a hostile public that doesn't care about line 347 in your 100-page contract with AT&T and couldn't care less if you owe AT&T money if unlocked iPhones are allowed. This public, including those people you rely on as the "buy anything and everything Apple," will not stand by and take punches without throwing a few back.

A bricked iPhone would be an opening salvo in a battle that you don't want to fight. Trust me, do not lose sight of the fact that these current iPhone owners will remember what you've done when you release iPhone 2.0--if there even will be one after this possible debacle.

iTunes under fire
To make matters worse for Apple, Amazon has officially unleashed its music download service, which is currently in public beta right now. And after using it for the last hour and downloading a handful of the 2 million songs available, I can say that it's just as simple to use as iTunes. Even better, it allows you to download software that will take the MP3 and import it directly into your iTunes library. And if that wasn't enough, some (but not all) songs are just 89 cents, instead of the 99 cents or $1.29 we pay on iTunes.

But perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to use this service is that it's online and the songs are DRM-free. By simply surfing your way over to the site, you can peruse the selection of songs and download it in a matter of seconds. Much like iTunes, it's simple and easy. But unlike iTunes, you can do what you want with the songs you buy, when you want.

After using it, I can say with all honesty, that I believe this service could give Apple a run for its money. Just the ability to add songs to iTunes is enough for me to use it and believe it or not, some songs that you can't find on iTunes can be found on the Amazon service.

iTunes vs. Amazon CNET

iTunes is in deep trouble. As a person who owns three Macs and a Windows box that runs iTunes, I'm keenly aware of what the service offers and doesn't offer. And while the Amazon service won't let me download 24, it will let me own my music, and for a person who listens to all kinds of music on a number of different devices, that's extremely important.

One of the most ironic aspects of this Amazon release is that almost 1 million DRM-free songs are 10 cents cheaper than a song with DRM from iTunes and 40 cents cheaper than a DRM-free song from iTunes. Is it just me or does the music industry dislike Steve Jobs and Apple more than we thought? Why was Amazon able to get that kind of deal, but Steve couldn't?

In just a few short months, a fairy tale could quickly become a nightmare. The iPhone--Apple's ticket to the future--is in danger of being hated, and iTunes--the key to the iPod fortune--is facing a stiff competitor with enough traffic and capital in the bank to give it a run for its money.

Could it be that the golden years of Apple are behind us and the dark days are coming on strong? I don't know, but time will certainly tell.