My apologies if this “insight” is obvious (or obviously incorrect), but it just occurred to me and I thought it was worth sharing.
When you buy an iPad, you must plug it into a computer in order to set it up. That’s mystifying to me, since the device can independently connect to the Internet and to Apple’s stores for music, video, and applications. As far as I know, the iPhone works the same way.
The only reason that makes sense to me is a legal one. Apple’s contracts with the record labels and movie studios permit content to be copied on to up to five authorized computers (Macs or PCs), each of which can support an unlimited number of tethered devices (traditionally iPods).
If the iPad were to function independent of a host computer, the media companies would (rightly) argue that it’s a computer and should count as one of the five permitted computers. By requiring iPads to be tethered to PCs, Apple can include them in the “unlimited” category.
As a user, I’m annoyed my iPad needs a PC. But since I’ve maxed out my five computers, I’d be more annoyed if I couldn’t put my legitimately-purchased movies and music on it.
You can bet Apple is working on a new licensing regime — or Internet-based “syncing” that meets the letter of the contracts. Whether Hollywood will go along is anyone’s guess.