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December 05, 2005

I want more from my iPod

Peter Burrows

I have an admission to make. I'm getting a bit angry at my iPod. It's not due to any battery life problem, or synching glitch or cracked screen. My iPod works just fine, and I am as addicted to using it as are many other iPod owners. The problem is that it's making me sick of some of my music.

Let me explain. I love music, and own a lot of it, by most measures. Much of it is on my 30-gig iPod. I've got 2,142 songs loaded, ranging from Bach to Bob Dylan to Betty Carter to Brave Combo. Still, I often find myself skipping more songs than I listen to on my commutes, where I do most of my listening. For a while, going into shuffle mode helped--you know, the whole Random effect. But that didn't last. Indeed, I increasingly find I'm using my iPod mostly for listening to podcasts. That gives me something new to listen to every few days, whether its tech news or otherwise.

What's happening is that the deeper I get into digital music, the more I demand the ability to track down music I know but don't own, and to discover new music. Personally, I don't "steal" music; I've never downloaded anything from a file-sharing site, and don't plan to start now. Instead, I subscribe to Real Networks' Rhapsody service, which lets me listen to pretty much whatever I want. (While my tastes are broad, they must not be terribly deep--since I tend to find almost everything I want on this service). Since I began paying for Rhapsody, I hardly ever even open my iTunes library while working at my PC. And with today's news that Rhapsody subscribers can listen in via the Net, I also won't need my iPod in the office; I pulled up the new Web-based Rhapsody this morning, and it's working fine. (For some reason, the Rhapsody client didn't work through our corporate firewall, but this does).

Plus, I've got an extra advantage being a business reporter: I'm currently test-driving Sonos Networks' Digital Music System, which lets me wirelessly pipe music from Rhapsody to any room in the house. The combination is terrific. While the Sonos system is too expensive at $1500 or so (for my wife, at least; I'm tempted to splurge), I certainly think this could be a primary way I'll be getting music in the future. At least in my home, the much discussed "celestial jukebox in the sky" pretty much exists.

To me, the upshot is that I think Apple needs to move more aggressively to let people get more music in more ways. No doubt, I don't want to part with my iPod, and judging from Apple's market share, I'm far from alone. But there are some reports that momentum for the music downloads business is slowing. Certainly, this music fans' purchases from iTunes have slowed a bit.

Of course, Macworld is coming up on Jan. 10, so Apple may well have something wonderful up its sleeve. If not then, I hope it comes soon, or the limitations of the iPod experience could become even more apparent. After all, as Steve Jobs always says, at the end of the day it's all about the music.

01:36 AM

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Never, try and second guess what Steve Jobs has up his sleeve. When he feels that the time is right for streaming music in iTunes it will happen. The reason that the downloaded music numbers going down is that more and more Windows users are getting iPods and they may be more into ripping CDs than the iTunes Music Store

Posted by: Fred C. Dobbs at December 5, 2005 05:36 AM

I had a similar feeling, that i was skipping more songs than i was listening too.

So i made a smart playlist in iTunes to put all the songs i rated 4-5 stars, then started rating the sogs as i would hear them...

now i have a playlist with only music i actually want to listen to over and over.

apart from stoping my 'skipping' habbit, rating the songs forces you to listen to them again, which helps you find the dimonds in the rough.

have fun.

Z

Posted by: Zillatron at December 5, 2005 11:36 AM

You are missing out on one the the most incredible and LEGAL sources of music on the web - eMusic.

For a monthly fee - ranging from $9.99 for 40 tracks per month to $19.99 for 90 tracks, you can down load DRM-free VBR MP3 music, which can be burned to an unlimited number of CDs and transferred to any type of digital music player.

You won't find Top 40 or major labels on eMusic, but you will find a incredible variety of music from literally hundreds of music labels. If you like classical music, eMusic has just added the ENTIRE Naxos catalog, and I am certain that won't be the last one to sign up.

Surprisingly, a lot of music that is available on iTunes Music Store is also available on eMusic, and can be cheaper. For example, there is a series of environmental albums called "Relax with Nature," and each of them contain an hour long track of natural sounds - water, birdsong, wind, etc. The iTMS version is priced per album - $9.99 each. eMusic prices by track - no exception. So, if you subscribed at the $9.99 rate, and had 40 tracks per month to download, you could obtain the entire 18 album set for $9.99, and still have plenty of your monthly allotment left over for some death metal to restore higher brain function after so many hours of ambient/environmental sound. Your cost on iTMS for the same set, and without any death metal - $179.81.

The downside to the eMusic model is if you find an album comprised of lots of short tracks (someone common in the classical genre, or on comedy albums), you could use most of your allotment for one album.

Another benefit to eMusic is that you can redownload tracks an unlimited number of times. I've also found them very responsive to quality issues. There is a very easy to use form to report problems with a track/album, and I usually get a definitive answer within a day. Usually, my account is credited for the bad track, the track is pulled from the catalog and re-encoded.

The downside is that you don't automatically get album art, and the album covers on the eMusic website are 200 x 200 pixels - not very satisfying.

However, that is the only negative I can think of. I've been a subscriber to eMusic for about a year, and I've just about doubled my music library for a fraction of the cost of buying CDs or buying from iTMS. I get DRM-less free tracks that I can do anything with and access to an enormous library of music that I otherwise would never get to hear.

Check it out - www.emusic.com

Posted by: Dreadnought at December 6, 2005 01:04 PM

Too bad emusic used to give you a lot more music for a lot less money, it seems as if every couple of months they like to lower the amount of songs you can get. I used to be able to get about 2000 songs a month for 19.99 and now it's 90. It's the same catalog, I already got everything I needed from them, and I got very bored of looking for new stuff very quickly. the 256 vbr mp3 is nice though

Posted by: christian at December 7, 2005 02:40 PM

I've found sources such as eMusic too limited and I believe most mainstream iPod owners would, too. Most of us want music from acts that are familiar or at least those that have been recommended as having potential. Only a relative handful of the downloads at small, non-DRM sites are 'names.' I also think iTMS is more eclectic than it is given credit for being. I have downloaded blues, classical and jazz from iTMS. There isn't nearly as much as Top 40 downloads, but there is enough to be able to find some of what you want.

Posted by: Mac Diva at December 9, 2005 05:52 AM

I read your article and for a moment, I actually thought I had written it. I am a 110 mile-a-day commuter with a 60 gig iPod with 6470 songs. Before the iPod I was an NPR junky in the car, now I listen to podcasts in the morning and then listen to "shuffle songs" on my ride home. Well, a few months ago I started noticing that I typically go through about 150 songs or so in my little-over-an-hour commute. I, too, shuffle past more songs than I actually listen to all the way through.

... hmmm, I didn't even realize I had Toto's Greatest Hits!

Posted by: DaveT at December 9, 2005 10:01 AM

well unlike you I am annoyed with my cracked screen. After the third day of use it cracked while in my pocket (no i didn't sit on it or smash something into it), and apple doesn't want to replace it. It would have been nice to listen to it long enough to be sick of my music.

Posted by: ukai at January 3, 2006 09:47 PM


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