I'm not a member of the “Cult of Apple”. I think they're an excellent consumer electronics manufacturer, but not a particularly great computer manufacturer (I know it's blasphemy…but I'm just not a huge fan of OSX). The iPod in particular is an elegant device. Almost as great is iTunes despite some incredible weaknesses, there are some things that it just gets right. In fact it gets buying music so right that it makes illegal downloads obsolete.
Here's a very real situation I had this week. I wanted to listen to A Perfect Circle's Thirteenth Step. I've had one song in my head for weeks, so I went downstairs, dug up the CD, put it in my laptop, and played it. “Awesome” thought I, “I love this album, I'm gonna rip it.” I clicked “Copy CD” in iTunes, and waited.
Five minutes later it finished ripping the first song.
Now let's be clear here. My laptop is a BEAST. It's a 1.8ghz Core 2 Duo with 2 Gigs of RAM. This thing renders video faster than my desktop. But it couldn't rip my CD…because it has copy protection on it (I bought this CD before I enacted my “I refuse to buy CD's with copy protection embedded on them” rule).
Option 1: Download it legally from iTunes…I checked, I could do that, but it's $10.00 for a CD I already own. Took me about 30 seconds to find it, and I know that the copy will be great.
Option 2: Download illegally. Took about 5 minutes of searching, and I found what I THINK might be a good version of it, but I won't really know for 5 minutes when I download it and find out that it's actually a virus bomb created to blow up my computer.
Option 3: Figure out how to break the Copy protection.
Option 4: Listen to the CD as god (or in this case EMI) intended.
I chose option 4 this time…but it made me think. I now buy music on iTunes without much thought. $10.00 is a sum almost inconsequential. It's a little more than a movie rental, and about the same as a fast food meal out.
This morning I had a song by Regina Spektor stuck in my head. I checked on iTunes and the regular album was available for $9.99, while the version with 3 bonus songs was $12.99. What the heck. I'll buy it.
I clicked on “Buy Album”. iTunes prompted me for my password. Entered, and the album begins downloading.
One minute and thirty five seconds later, the album was down.
Two minutes after that it was on my iPod.
Holy crap. Now that's an example of an enabling technology. I sacrifice a bit of quality to get the convenience of a super fast experience.
Now I'm not delighted with the fact that the music is DRM'ed, although there are ways around that, the quality isn't great (and the highest quality available is 128k), but I'm kind of okay with it.
I wish iTunes itself were a little more better and wasn't primarily focused on looking good. Stability would be nice. Better organizational tools would be nice. Some support for Canada in terms of Movies and TV would be nice (those movies and TV being in HD would be even nicer), and better integration with stuff like Media Center rather than requiring me to buy yet another appliance that I'm not interested in (Apple TV), would be great.
However, that said, iTunes is a pretty cool experience, and I like the convenience of it a lot.