Having now actually made two purchases at Apple’s iTunes Music Store, I can report that the service, once you get it running, is frighteningly easy to use. It took me a day or two to register with the store because the initial frenzy of its debut had Apple’s servers tied up in knots. But once I did, I found that downloading a song was really as simple as clicking on a single button. Dangerously simple.
My first purchase was an old LL Cool J track for 99¢. With a single click (or two), the track downloaded and added itself to my local iTunes library without a hitch. Emboldened, I decided to try and buy Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ entire “Too-Rye-Ay” album for ten bucks. It downloaded in about five minutes, after which I popped in a blank CD-R and within a few minutes I had a newly minted physical copy, playable on virtually any CD player in the world.
I could get used to this. In fact, I could feel myself getting used to the almost absurdly instantaneous gratification of the whole process. Which is why I’m actually thankful that the iTunes Music Store’s catalog of truly interesting music is very, very paltry. If they ever manage to overcome that deficiency, then it’d be a good idea for music fans everywhere to ask the bank to lower the limit on their credit cards.
Above, album info view in the iTunes Music Store. No mechanism for bookmarking, no editorial content, no cross-sell specific to my library or purchases, no total running time, and inaccurate release information.
Tweaks to the iTunes Music Store
So Apple got the download part right and the overall software experience right. Leaving aside even the shallow variety of their catalog offering, there’s still lots more that they can do to polish up iTunes and its music store. Here are just a few ideas.
- Shopping Cart or Wish List
How come there’s no shopping cart? Probably because Apple wants to emphasize the one-click technology that practically urges you to buy now, quickly and immediately. Still, I’d at least like to have a wish list of some sort, where I can queue up recordings I plan on buying.
- Editorial Value Add
Where’s the editorial content? Whether Apple realizes it or not — they must realize it — they are in competition with Amazon.com for music buying dollars. So they’d better find a content partner soon that can offer album reviews, editorial lists and recommendations that can match the bounty of the same found at Amazon.
Speaking of which, they need a recommendation engine, something that can serve up offerings that are likely to appeal to consumers based not just on what they’ve bought, but what they have in their iTunes library. This is a unique opportunity for Apple. Amazon.com, CD Now et. al. are resigned to guessing what’s in their customers’ music collections. Apple practically houses those collections. With a simple mechanism to allow customers to opt in and reveal the contents of their libraries to the company, Apple would have a goldmine of marketing information.
- Gift Certificates
If Apple starts working on it today, they can have gift certificates available by the holiday season. Imagine receiving $100 worth of iTunes Music Store dollars. What a great gift! And it’d be even better if it only cost the gift bearer $95. (I credit my Jeff Piazza with this idea.)
While I’m at it, I may as well throw in some minor interface quibbles.
- Apple keeps changing the color of the iTunes icon. Version 2 featured a blue note, version 3 a purple note and now version 4 features a green note. This is frustrating because I keep having to re-learn the color code when I hunt down the icon to launch or switch to iTunes.
- Track listings display running times, but why can’t they also calculate the total running time of an album? For that matter, why can’t they provide accurate meta information like the year the recording was released? According to the store’s information, “Too-Rye-Ay” was just released in 2002. Er…
- Who produced these tracks? Who wrote them? Who played on them? Better go search Amazon or CD Now for that information, because it’s nowhere to be found here.
- When I tried to burn my CD, I didn’t realize that I needed to change my Preferences settings to burn an audio CD, rather than a data CD. It took a while to figure this out, no thanks to the rather unhelpful error iTunes 4 messages.