Monday, September 17, 2007, 05:00 am PT (08:00 am ET)
An in-depth iPod Touch review
WiFi iTunes Store
The Touch also debuts a new application the iPhone doesn't yet have. Called "iTunes," it provides a way to browse, listen to, and buy songs from the iTunes Store. I previously doubted Apple would put a store on the iPhone or similar handheld device, because I thought it would complicate the existing contracts with labels that allow iTunes songs to play back on five computers but unlimited numbers of iPods. If the iPod became an instance of iTunes, would it affect the number of computers allowed?
I also questioned whether the experience of iTunes would translate into a small screen. However, while it doesn't deliver everything in desktop version of the iTunes Store, the WiFi Music Store does a very good job at quickly presenting featured, popular, and custom search results in an interface that is easy and appealing to use.
The Featured section highlights three tabs: New Releases, What's Hot, and Genres. Each of the first two tabs presents a screen with two featured blocks at the top and a scrolling list of around ten albums underneath. Each album is presented with its album art, so the experience is very visual, not just a bunch of text links.
Touch an album, and it presents a list of songs. Touch a song, and it begins playing a half minute sample immediately in a round playback control that fills in like a 30 second timer as it plays. Each song and album is labeled with a 99 cent price. If you touch it, it it changes to a Buy Now link. Touch again, and you add the song to your library. You can also buy albums at the typical $9.99 price. If you've enabled iTunes Plus on your account, it will offer available DRM-free songs at the $1.29 price.
Under the Genres tab, a list of Pop, Alternative, Hip-Hop/Rap, Rock, and R&B/Soul appear, along with More Genres. Touch that and it displays a list of nearly 20 different types, each of which presents the familiar page of two picks by Apple and another ten items actually related to that genre.
The second icon along the bottom takes you to the Top Tens section, which lists two tabs, one for iTunes' top ten songs and another for albums. On the songs tab, you can touch once for a preview, or double tap to be taken to that album. At the bottom of each Top Ten list is a button to pull down ten more. Every touch loads another ten items, eventually revealing the top 100 songs or albums for browsing.
The third icon along the bottom is for Search, which presents a blank query field. As you type in letters, it presents instant search results. Typing MOD brought up both Modest Mouse and Depeche Mode, along with a list of ten other things. Touching Modest Mouse presents the band's last two albums and below that, a list of 25 songs. Under the two albums is a link to "see all albums," and a touch brought up 25 albums, with the option to load one more.
Each album is presented with cover art, the number of individual user reviews in iTunes, and average star ratings (although you can't read the actual reviews or post any). Touching an album presents the familiar listing of songs, with the option to audition tracks and buy the whole album or individual songs. Albums that include a digital booklet note that "If you purchase this album, the next time you connect to the iTunes Store on your computer, you will also receive:" followed by a list of the bonus material included.
One yet invisible feature in the new WiFi Store is Apple's partnership with Starbucks. It's only active when you walk into a Starbucks, only only visible when you open the WiFi Store. It simply offers another page of music to browse through, related to the playlist of that store. As stores turn the new system on—which won't even start until next month, and won't hit most major US cities until the end of next year—Touch and iPhone users will be able to use Starbucks' WiFi to shop for songs on using the WiFi store. They won't however, be able to hitch a free ride for other browsing. That's all irrelevant to users who don't want to buy Starbucks music, because you have to concertedly dig to find the page. Don't expect Apple to start adding popup advertisements.
The simple and consistent layout of store content — and the speed of navigating and downloading samples — make the new WiFi Store very usable and very attractive. Purchased songs remain on the Touch until the next sync, when they are added to the iTunes library. At the bottom of the main page in the WiFi Store is a link to Apple's terms of service legalese, which opens in Safari.
On page 5:What's Missing on the Touch; A Frustration for 'iPhone Without the Phone' Seekers; The Touch as an iPod; and Rating.
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