Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Mac OS X
Every company is always looking for the “killer app.” The software title that makes everyone just have to get a product. Visicalc was the killer app for the Apple IIe, Lotus and WordPerfect were the killer apps for the original IBM computers and now Apple just may have another killer app on their hands with iTunes. And this time it’s a Windows app as well as an Apple one.
iTunes launched to universal acclaim on the Apple Macintosh systems several months ago, and Apple has just recently released their newest version for the much bigger Windows world.
It was worth the wait.
Many people have already started trying to steal the thunder of this elegantly designed product, but it is a waste of time.
Well designed and thought out, iTunes makes the music jukebox experience seamless and effortless in importing your music collection to your computer. It is *really* just a simple
matter of dragging and dropping to get your music into the library, or to by clicking the ‘import’ button.
The library is where your music lives, catalogued under the appropriate folders deep inside your My Documents folder. Once music has been imported into your library you can build playlists of your choosing and then burn discs in audio or mp3 or Apples mp4/AAC format. How simple is it to burn a disc? You build a playlist, put a blank disc in and then press the ‘burn’ button.
In fact, if you build a playlist longer than one disc (easy to do), iTunes will prompt you to make a multiple disc burn! Very nice!
And contrary to a lot of reports being spread by iTunes detractors, my friends who use iTunes tell me that it is quite easy to use their USB mp3 players with the jukebox. They are able to drag and drop mp3 files to their players with ease. Their only problem is with the store bought music, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The killer part of this experience is the iTunes music store (click image
below to see full size image).
This is the addicting part of the iTunes experience.
If you like music at all – you will find yourself going back here quite often. $0.99 a song and if you want to buy the whole album you can get most of them for a very reasonable $9.99. In fact – the newest Elvis Presley album, “Second to None” retails for $9.99 on iTunes and for $14.99 at my local Wal-Mart.
And you *own* this music once you download it. It’s yours. This isn’t a subscription service, it’s a store.
They do however put a few restriction on the music that can be bypassed if you think about it (*cough* re-rip) You can only record 10 sessions at a time from a set playlist, but you can move one song, and now you have 10 more burns. You cannot record the AAC/MP4 (iTunes store bought music) as files to a disc like you can mp3s, you can only record them as audio discs. (*cough* re-rip) But this is all small potatoes DRM stuff. Your original AAC/MP4’s can only be on three authorized computers at a time. (Do I hear someone coughing?) Again – *very* minor inconveniences, but not enough to take away from the simple pleasure of using this product.
AAC seems to be a nice format. Truthfully – I cannot hear any difference between AAC, MP3 or a regular CD. (of course – I’ve been to one too many concerts over my lifetime too!)
Here is an article from the Apple Knowledgebase comparing AAC with MP3:
This document explains differences in the AAC and MP3 codecs that can be used in iTunes 4.
AAC-encoded files sound as good as or better than MP3 files encoded at the same or even a higher bit rate.
For example, a 128-kilobit-per-second (kbit/s) AAC file should sound as good as or better than a 160 kbit/s MP3 file. Because the bit rate is lower, the AAC file will also be smaller than the MP3 file. AAC files allow you to store the most music on your hard disk or iPod. The High Quality AAC setting creates files that are usually less than 1 MB for each minute of music.
Note : AAC files encoded from a source other than the iTunes Music Store (such as an audio CD) work the same as an MP3 file encoded from the same source. No authorization required to play or burn them. So, AAC files you encode yourself in iTunes 4 can be burned more than ten times per playlist and can be played on more than three computers.
Browsing the iTunes music store is a very nice experience, especially if you have a fat pipe connection. Dial up users, our word for the day is – “patience”
I find myself browsing and buying deep catalog music I haven’t seen in years – Joni Mitchell, Chet Atkins, John Denver as well as newer music like the Fountains of Wayne.
Each Album has 30 second streams of *every* song. You can see if you like the album before you buy. You can
purchase individual songs from an album, or all of them.
This is great.
As a music Jukebox, there are minor control issues with iTunes. To switch from burning mp3’s to audio discs, you have to go to the preferences menu. There could probably be a simpler and faster way to make that choice. But if you mainly do one or the other, you may not notice this inconvenience.
As a music store, there are minor DRM issues with iTunes. (NOTHING like it’s competitors draconian DRM practices though.) If you don’t have an iPod, you won’t be able to export your store purchased music to your mp3 player unless you burn an audio disc and then re-rip it to mp3. AAC files purchased from the store are not exportable, but can be burned to as many audio discs as you want, only having to change their play order every 10 burns. The iPod does not have these limitations and can easily store and play any and all songs you can put into the library. AAC files you burn yourself can be exported and playlists burned as many times as you want.
Could it use a little more support for other mp3 players? Probably, but remember, this is also built as a showcase for the iPod from Apple. What would be nice is if other MP3 players would add support to AAC.
And did I mention the iTunes Visualizer option? Magic! The best visual mood graphic thingy I’ve ever seen with a jukebox player. It *really* works in time with the music and is VERY hypnotic. Apple is best at adding little touches like this to just make a user’s experience as enjoyable as they know how to. Does the visualizer do anything earth shattering? No, but it is what helps make an Apple product an Apple product. Sexy and unique.
And I haven’t even touched on the Audible book support both in the music store and in the jukebox software! Or the equalizer, or the video streams at the music store, or joining of music tracks together, or the id3 tag support, the adjustable cross fading playback option…whew! I think you get the idea. But I must mention the fact that if you have a broadband connection, (and even if you don’t!) iTunes has a really neat section of radio stations built in. They range in bandwidth from minimal 24kbps to 128kbps. It even works nicely on a dial-up (with minimal buffering) but really smokes on a broadband. It has a very nice selection of music from 50’s – 80’s, alt, classical, pop, jazz and more. (I like "Groove Salad") Very sharp.
I should also mention that if you have your computers networked at home, you can share your music over the networks through iTunes. This is a nice feature too.
Will all this beauty, simplicity and power make you want to dump your Windows machine for a Mac? Maybe, maybe not; but it will definitely sell a *lot* of iPods.
iTunes truly captures the ease and beauty of using a Mac product. But if nothing else – it has diversified Apple’s appeal and enhanced their recognition with the public.
“Isn’t Apple that computer company that just sells hardware?” – Not anymore.
I highly recommend this product for both Mac and Win users that enjoy music and want to keep and catalog a large music collection on their ‘puters. And if you want to legally download and enjoy music – there is no better choice on the market today.
Price: FREE for the music jukebox, $.99 a song, most albums $9.99, but will vary according to age or number of discs.
Very elegant music jukebox, packed with features
Addictive buying experience, even for the novice
Easy browsing of titles on your computer and in music store
Seamless experience when using Apple iPod
Music store has deep catalog of albums
Nice radio station feature that works well with dial-up but awesome with a broadband connection
Some features are not intuitive and have to be chosen under preferences each time you want to use.
Not as easy to use mp3 players as it is to use Apple iPod.
Can only burn store purchased music (AAC/mp4 format) to audio discs and not mp3 format.
Special Note of a hopefully temporary Con:
iTunes music store is currently only available to United States customers. Hopefully licensing issues will be cleared up soon and the European iTMS will open soon!