Posted Wednesday, April 30, 2003

A Report from the iTunes Music Store

Yesterday afternoon, I found temporary relief from my slow, on-the-road modem connection at a local Kinko's. I plugged my Titanium into the Kinko's network, fired up iTunes 4, and headed into the iTunes Music Store.

And I bought and bought and bought.

I'll admit it: I was skeptical of the entire idea of an Apple-operated music service -- not because I didn't think Apple could pull it off, but because music theft is so prevalent that I didn't think people would bother with a fee-based service.

I'm a believer now. The iTunes Music Store makes buying music easier than stealing it. And it lacks the most restrictive limitations of other commercial music-download services -- you can move your songs between Macs and burn them to CDs.

Apple has done a great job of rolling Internet services into iTunes. Rather than using a Web browser to shop for music, you use iTunes itself. The Source area of the iTunes window -- that portion of the window where your playlists are listed -- has a new item, Music Store. Click it, and the right-hand side of the iTunes window changes to show the store's home page, where Apple hawks a variety of artists and albums.

The real fun begins when you search or browse the music store. Apple has adapted iTunes' browse feature to online music shopping: select a genre, and a list of artists appears in the adjacent box. Select a name in the artist box, a list of albums and songs appears to its right (below).

There are a couple of songs from Lee Ritenour's "Festival" album that I always liked but didn't have in digital form. By browsing, I was able to home in on them with a few seconds. I could play a short sample to verify they were they songs I wanted, and then buy them for 99 cents apiece.

This has long been the promise of online music services: the ability to buy just the tracks you want instead of having to shell out $15 or more for an entire CD. The industry has been harping about this for years now; Apple has made it a reality.

Late last night, when I returned to my 28.8 modem connection, I tried buying another song. Alas, the download took place way too slowly -- with the Kinko's broadband connection, tunes were downloading in a minute or so. With my on-the-road modem connection, I was looking at a good 30 minutes or more.

I cancelled the download, figuring I'd rather be out the 99 cents than postpone my beauty sleep. This morning, I thought I'd try again. iTunes was smart enough to know that I'd already bought the song, and encouraged me to choose the Check for Purchased Music command from the Advanced menu. I did, and the song began downloading. Very nice. (Update: this Apple Knowledge Base article describes how iTunes handles interrupted downloads.)

I haven't yet transferred my purchases to another computer or to an iPod. I still have more tunes to buy.

Check back soon for more tales from the iTunes 4 test track. And write to me with your own experiences and questions.