Category Archives: iTunes

Reminder: Initial iTunes Complete My Album Offer Expiring Tuesday

completealbum

Just a reminder: the iTunes Complete My Album offer for any partial albums that were purchased before the program went into effect earlier this year expires this Tuesday, June 26.

It’s worth checking your list on iTunes to see if there’s anything worth buying.

The program will continue after June 26 for any songs that you buy (or have bought since the introduction of the Complete My Album program), with each album staying ‘complete-able’ for six months after the first track is purchased.

You’ll see a handy expiration date below any of the appropriate Complete My Album links in iTunes, and they even become highlighted in yellow when the expiration nears.

(Partial CD graphic based on original artwork in iTunes Artwork widget by Sophia Teutschler)

Plus

iTunes

In case you are just tuning in to the ‘net for the first time this week, Apple has finally released their DRM-free, higher-quality option for the iTunes Store, dubbed iTunes Plus. The release, coming in parallel with iTunes 7.2, has been the subject of much excited discussion, and even one or two conspiracy theories that probably aren’t.1

So, is it worth all of the foment that is being generated? I’m not sure. I braved the store’s bogged-down day(s) of thousands (millions?) of devotees rushing online to try iTunes Plus, and downloaded both the free track of the week (in iTunes Plus) and an AIR track from their latest album in Plus format.

The process is pretty smooth. If a track or album has an iTunes Plus version available, a dialog appears offering it to you when you attempt to buy. The first time you make this choice, you set a preference (undo-able at any time for or against ‘Plus’ tracks), which will govern the type you are offered at the store (when a choice is available).

If you choose to prefer iTunes Plus, the Plus-capable tracks show up with a little ‘+’ icon next to the price (and they sport a 30¢ surcharge per track). Albums just have an ‘iTunes Plus’ notation near the title (apparently, even when you haven’t chosen to prefer ‘Plus’).

Observations:

  • The Plus versions of most albums carry the same price as their non-Plus counterparts. This is quite a deal, considering that the Plus tracks individually are 30% more expensive.
  • “Complete My Album” works with Plus albums, but only if the tracks are all of one kind or the other. (You have to upgrade your old 99¢ tracks to apply their value to a Plus album. More on that in a moment.)

I have two big hang-ups, though — and they’re enough to make me reluctant to jump on the Plus bandwagon too quickly:

  • Size: Plus tracks are, as advertised, double the quality (bit rate) of their non-Plus counterparts. For only 30¢ more, this sounds like a great deal. But the fact is: this makes iTunes Plus tracks double the disk size of their non-Plus counterparts.

    Is the difference in quality really worth that? I haven’t done any direct comparisons, but I’m not impressed enough by my two Plus tracks to believe that my feeling of higher-quality sound is much beyond placebo effect. I’ve been pretty happy with 128kbps AAC from the iTunes Store in the past, and I’m sure these are better, but is it really that noticeable in light of the trade-off?

    “Trade-off? How is higher-quality a trade-off?” you ask. Well, consider this: a 4-minute iTunes Store track with DRM runs about 4MB. The same track in Plus format runs around 8MB. This means that if your iPod used to offer you 1,000 songs in your pocket, it can only muster about 500 songs in your pocket with iTunes Plus. (Note that the most commonly-sold iPod nano runs at this 1,000 song size — so will the entry-level iPhone.)

    I like my music rich and high-quality, but I also like the freedom of choice that a vast iPod collection allows.

    I could just downgrade my music for use on the iPod (and then what? Keep a second library just for my iPod?).

    Perhaps I should limit the Plus tracks I buy to only the tracks that I feel might best benefit from the high-quality treatment and buy the rest in old-fashioned FairPlay DRM 128kbps? You can always switch your preferences back and forth, and you could always upgrade your plain track to a Plus track if you needed to. That sounds like a plan! But, there’s a big catch — my second hang-up…

  • Upgrade at once: Apple offers users the magnanimous option to upgrade older tracks to Plus format for only the extra 30¢ a track or 30% for any full albums. It even looks up what tracks you have that are eligible2 and offers to upgrade them for you in one fell swoop.

    But, as it turns out, only in one fell swoop.

    That’s right, there’s no picking and choosing. It’s all or nothing. For me, it would have cost $19 and change last night. But during the day today, they apparently added a few more Plus tracks to the store, and I would owe Apple $20.40 now if I want to upgrade any tracks.

    Apparently, from the wording on the Store, this will continue — as Apple “continually” adds more Plus tracks to its offerings, any upgrades I’m eligible for will automatically be added to my list (and total price).

    So, if I were to buy a plain track today and wish to upgrade it to Plus tomorrow, I could — but only if I bought an additional $20.40-worth of other tracks at the same time.

    If I want to look on the bright side, it’s easy to see that, in my hypothetical scenario, I could just pay $1.29 and buy that track again in Plus format. If I wanted to buy a lot more (say, about 15 or 16 more), it would behoove me to just buy all of my 16 tracks and five albums at the $20.40 upgrade price.

I’m probably just being picky here, but I just wanted to air my opinion that it’s not quite all wine and roses in Plus-land. Of course one can always take the 256kbps Plus tracks and sample them down (even using iTunes itself), but it’s a hassle. I’m debating keeping a separate library or even just a folder for my high-quality downloads, and using a script to downsample them for my main library and iPod.

If anyone at Apple is reading, this could all be fixed for me with a check-box in the iPod prefs to automatically downsample any AACs larger than 128kbps to 128 on sync to the iPod. I’d happily endure longer syncs for it!3

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Notes:


  1. It’s a bug people! iTunes cannot magically tell what MP3s are re-ripped from protected AAC! Try rebuilding your library — it looks like it’s a corruption issue in the upgrade process. 

  2. Again, it doesn’t scan your library as some conspiracy theorists have suggested — Apple keeps a list of your past purchases on file on in its servers. It’s the same way they can offer you “Complete My Album.” 

  3. It’s not a pipe dream! Shuffles have an option to convert track formats on the fly during a sync. Of course, shuffles are the only iPods with an option for Autofill, too. Why, oh why, can’t I have Autofill for the last bit of free space on my nano? 

“We Invented The Competition.”

beta I was going to simply update the last …quick clicks… entry, but Roughly Drafted’s latest post (article, really), sparks a lot of further consideration and discussion.

In it, Daniel Eran, in his typically thorough, yet readable fashion, gives an excellent overview of the evolution of home video and the format war that occurred as that industry developed. In the corporate espionage, backstabbing, and hubris, analogies to today’s home entertainment market (especially music) are painfully clear.

Looking back on Sony and its decisions regarding the (clearly superior) Beta format is a fascinating bit of hindsight. Perhaps the kernel of the Eran’s argument is this:

…companies [were given] the opportunity to experience the alternative to standards-based development. Rather than a government-run organization establishing standards, individual manufacturers would all scramble to develop their own proprietary systems, optionally choosing to license their designs to other makers.

In hindsight, this worked out really poorly. While companies were already able to compete in delivering TVs that all worked according to the standard NTSC TV specifications, there were no standards guiding a record or tape delivery medium for video.

Because there were no standards, huge resources were wasted in competing efforts to invent new ones. This same principle was later relearned at considerable expense in the field of software development, in networking, and again in video standards. Open formats and open standards solve a lot of problems for the market.

The lack of an open standard did not actually kill home video, however, and I’m not sure that innovation was truly dealt a serious blow. Interestingly, the VHS juggernaut that eventually squashed Sony’s beloved Betamax was fueled by Sony’s own designs, as they eventually (haughtily) pointed out in ad campaigns – “We Invented The Competition.” JVC, the company that launched VHS shortly after Betamax, was using technology derived from both private demonstrations of the prototype Beta systems years earlier, as well as its experience as a partner in Sony’s earlier professional U-matic video tape systems.

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More music

iTunes2 Steven Levy, author of The Perfect Thing, the biography of the iPod, has an interesting post this morning working through his music-buying habits and how they are or are not affected by iTunes, DRM, and the record companies’ dreams of financial domination.

Personally, I have switched to downloading (yes, legally) for the most part, because convenience is paramount for me. Yes, it is comforting to have a physical CD, and yes, the audio quality is better on a CD than even the new higher-bitrate AAC offered by iTunes, but do I really need to store all that plastic away, when I listen almost exclusively through iTunes and iPods?

I think that more and more, people are consuming music in a much more constant stream. It’s with us when we walk to the parking lot, in the car, at the gym, while we exercise. Truth is, it has always been in a lot of these places — on PA speakers, radios, elevators. But today, the iPod and other portable devices are offering us a personalized stream of music in our lives — in every environment. We make all of the choices. It’s a compelling experience that makes it well worth a small dip in audio quality (especially if you have a hard time discerning that dip).

So, why do I need the physical CD? The strongest argument is that today’s audio compression and reproduction technology is but a tinny speaker to what we will have as a standard in 10 or 20 years. But will it matter? In 10 or 20 years, will I really dust off all of those CDs and re-rip that music into the format of the day? Maybe… or maybe not.

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