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I had been waiting for iTunes to launch in Britain and it finally has.
www.apple.com/itunes/ for those that want the address!
After a couple of months of extensive testing and experimentation I now feel I am ready to give an honest and well researched opinion!
First off, there seems to be a misconception that Apple were trying to take on the file sharing services like Napster and Kazaa. This is totally untrue! Apple launched the first pay-per-track legitimate download service with properly signed labels and bands.
I was sceptical at first as I had gotten used to using Kazaa myself. Paying for tracks was anathema to me... I didn't think it would work. I was quickly proven wrong when Apple sold something like one million songs in a month or something!
Anyways... the store.... first off, you have to have the iTunes software in order to use the store. That's covered in another opinion. However, the layout of the store homepage is fantastic. Very clear and easy to read. Left hand column is your categories, search options and so on. Centre column (the main one) has latest additions, exclusives, special offers, staff favourites and previews. Right column is the most popular downloads of the day.
Very simple, really. You have categories of music, which includes diverse options like audiobooks! Just pick your category to browse. Or you can use the search facility, which is pretty good too. Not a lot to be said about it really! The search results page is quite lengthy, depending on what you pick, but nicely laid out with track information etc. If your search brings back no results it offers you options based on your search, like Google, in case you spelt it wrong.
Downloading & Prices
Tracks cost 79p each, flat rate. Album prices vary, but they are mostly around the 7.99 mark for 95% of the albums I have seen. Some are more expensive, some are cheaper. I personally think 79p for a track is pretty good. Quite often I only want a couple of tracks off of an album so it saves me some cash in the long run! If I want the whole album I do tend to go to Amazon or HMV or something instead, as I like the covers etc!
Downloading itself is a doddle! Hit the download button, it confirms you want to download at the cost of 79p and bobs yer uncle! It comes down into your Purchased Music folder in iTunes. I'm downloading on a leased line, so it's pretty quick for me, but I can see how it would take a while using a dial-up service. However, that's not a lot different to Kazaa in that respect. It may take up to half an hour to download a biggish file, dependent on server traffic. Those on broadband are laughing though!
Quality of Tracks
The tracks come down in Apple's native format, AAC. Specially designed for the site, I think? Anyways, the tracks in AAC format are good, high quality 128bit files on a par with a decent MP3. Tons better than half the scratchy, dodgy tracks I got off Kazaa. Obviously the AAC format is playable on the Apple iPod... not much use to those with other portable music players you may think... but a ha!! Apple has a trick up its sleeve for you... you can convert files in iTunes from AAC to MP3 or vice versa! Dead cool!
The other advantage of the AAC originating files is that they don't appear to have read/write access privileges like the OD2 sites using the WMP format. I've not had a problem writing any of my tracks from iTunes onto a CD, whereas the WMPs are limited access!
You can also transfer AAC files to other computers, which is something that is impossible with the WMP format files.
I forgot! You know some of those CDs you get that have 'file protection' and their own little players for computers? iTunes doesn't care about that... it'll let you rip them anyway!! Huzzah times 20!
Well... this is, in my opinion, the only thing holding iTunes back... Apple were reluctant to sign up many indie bands at the start and so there's a fairly mainstream feel to the music on the site. However, in the last couple weeks that has changed! iTunes now offers a download of the week option which is always (seemingly, so far) an indie type band or artist and Apple have now signed contracts with the indie labels, so hopefully artist choice in the next couple months will expand dramatically!
I have to say that the iTunes store, along with iTunes software, is one of the best things in computer based entertainment in ages. Downloading music is fun all over again! You may have to pay for it, which some will say is not good... but I for one vote for paying for music! Apple is delivering tunes at a decent cost that doesn't make you feel ripped off by the labels or high street stores and in return we continue to be able to enjoy the fruits of many musical talents that rely on us buying their music for them to continue to work. Huzzah! iTunes basically rules ok!
I'm becoming addicted to iTunes recently. Its great for exposing new music too! And straight onto my iPod with just a few clicks. (None of the conversion problems from stores such as Napster). Great review!
drewboy 07.11.2004 19:16
I am downloading it at the moment (thank god I am on broadband.......its a biggy!) and will see how it goes, it is really only the quality of tracks that I am looking for and will see if that makes it worth paying. drew