As I predicted yesterday (with quite a bit of help from the half-dozen Apple rumors sites I read more often than any webcomics site), Apple announced a new music service where users can download music from all five major labels for about $1/song, or starting at about $10/album. Which is nice. I’ve just set up my existing Apple account to include the Apple Music Service, and by giving them my credit card number and agreeing to their EULA (the bulk of which I read carefully, to be sure I properly owned any music I bought and couldn’t be charged unexpectedly, and to be sure there weren’t any weird clauses like MS puts in theirs about scanning my hardware and software randomly and sending whatever the software finds to MS), I can now browse fairly easily (I say fairly because I use dial-up – on Broadband this thing must be like butter) through over 200,000 titles and click ‘Buy Now’ and have the song or songs begin instantly downloading to my computer where I am legally allowed to copy them to up to three Apple computers, as many iPods as I own (currently zero), and burn them to CDs (or now DVDs) as often as I’d like (though I can only burn unmodified playlists up to 10 times). I think I’ll buy Eminem’s Academy Award Winning Lose Yourself, which is only available on the 8 Mile soundtrack album, the rest of which I’ve never wanted to own.
Plus they updated their line of iPods to a sleeker design (if you remember the old iPod design, you might not have thought it possible, but the new design is not just smaller, it’s sleeker and sexier) and capacities of 10Gb, 15Gb, and 30Gb. They’ve also updated the internal software to include not just the music, address book, and calendar that the last version had, but now three games (including Solitaire), an Alarm clock, and some other advancements, including the ability to use AAC files instead of just MP3 files. Oh, and if you buy the 15Gb or 30Gb models, they come with the new dock included, so you just set your iPod in the docking cradle, and it stands upright so you can read the screen, communicates via Firewire (or USB 2.0 for you PC people), recharges, and if you have powered stereo speakers plugged into your dock, will allow you to play through them directly from the iPod/dock. So, yes, most of the updates (including a new version of iTunes, the Apple music software) were about how the iPod handles music, and draw attention to it as a music-playing device. But I remember back when the first iPod was introduced, a column in MacWorld magazine theorizing about the future of the iPod. It theorized a gradual evolution of features included in the iPod that would eventually lead to a device that had all the features of what is currently considered a ‘handheld computer’, plus a slew of Apple’s own bits and pieces, that will have totally changed the paradigm for portable computing without anyone noticing until it had already happened. I thought “Great!” when I read that column, fully believing that that sounded like the best way for Apple to go, and a believable way, too. So far, every software update, the calendar, the new games, the alarm clock, the address book, all the music-related updates of course, have been available to even the earliest iPod adopters, with the first 5Gb models. I expect that as Apple slowly turns the iPod (whose name never really said ‘music’ to me, but which makes a lot more sense as an all-in-one portable computing device that evolves over time) into the handheld computer of the future, the fact that someone bought the v1.0 hardware won’t leave them behind – they’ll still have the cutting edge device because the cutting edge is in the software, and even the earliest iPods were dual-processor machines. I mean, heck. Apple just released an update that increased battery life on all iPods across the board. People who thought their batteries were building up a memory and might need replacement have found new life by downloading a software update! And today they’ll be downloading much more. There’s a part of me that wants to wait, to buy the first color iPod (for surely when OLEDs become cost-effective, Apple will put them into iPods) or the first iPod whose whole front face is a touch-sensitive color screen. (The current rank of iPods have gone to all touch-sensitive controls, no moving parts. The original iPod control wheel was actually a spinning wheel, but now… a state-of-the-art touchpad instead.) But how many years away would something like that be, if it ever occurs? And what small limitations would it bring to my ever-upgradeable software experience on an iPod I bought right now? Is this the last iPod before color, or one in a long line before color? Or will they go with another idea I’ve had, but which I want to put together a proper proposal for and somehow get into Steve’s hands, which will mean the iPod never needs to go to a color screen, and which will allow the eternal upgradeability of old iPods to be carried forward into the full-color future?
I’ll stop. Really. I’m getting silly. I should probably be working on something else right now. Cleaning my room. Or that proposal for Steve. Something. Okay, I’ve already discovered a problem (for dial-up users) with Apple’s Music Service. They offer a free 30-second, high-quality preview of any song in their catalog, so you can be sure it’s the one you want to buy before you buy it. Which, with broadband, would start playing immediately. They have thought of us poor dial-up customers, and have an option to allow the entire 30 seconds to buffer before playing (which is nice, and allows for uninterrupted playing, instead of 30 seconds of music playing over 5+ minutes). Except that I wanted to just double-check on a song before I agreed to pay $0.99 for it, and the second time I wanted to listen to the 30-second stream I’ve already heard, it had to start downloading it all over again. Sigh.