Thumbs up to Apple for adding wireless access to the iTunes music store. As usual, Apple is late to this party, but has done it better than its predecessors.
Sure the slick iPod Touch will help, and yes, wireless access to the popular iTunes music store is more interesting than wireless access to pretty much any other store. But these aren't the reasons why Apple's wireless strategy is so impressive. It's the Starbucks deal.
Forget about Starbucks' corporate mumbo jumbo about being a passionate music provider (have you ever heard anybody sound less excited about being excited?) or the industry's cringing fear that two non-music music companies are teaming up. This is about awareness.
Look, people aren't familiar with access music services from a wireless device, except for the few who download on mobile phones. Even the mighty iTunes wouldn't be likely to get much traffic from wireless devices unless it did something to spoon feed it to people.
Enter Starbucks. First, Starbucks is the most prolific provider of WiFi hotspots in the country. Second, it plays music, so give users a reason to use the hotspot to connect to iTunes.
And then the genius stroke---the two set it up so users don't have to log in, pay for access or learn anything different. Brilliant.
When Microsoft introduced the Zune, I remember asking them what they were going to do to promote the social/community nature of the song-sharing device. Their answer? Nothing. Bad move. The Zune is only interesting when all your friends own one as well. But Microsoft made no effort to encourage groups of friends to buy Zunes together.
Apple has it right. It not only introduced the device and the service, but laid down an easy-to-follow path to using both, and in the process educates its base how to use a new service without making them feel like they've learned anything. It's like what Cingular did with text messaging when teaming up with American Idol.
iPhone owners sent Steve Jobs a message loud and clear following the unveiling of the iTunes ringtone store -- "Are you kidding?"
After sadistically slapping the most die-hard iPhone fanatics in the face with a $200 price drop on a product many had lined up overnight to purchase only a few months before, El Jobso wants them to pay an extra 99 cents for a ringtone of a song they already own. He even has the stones to act like Apple invented the idea of letting users create their own ringtone from a full song.
The fact is there are dozens of easy-to-use services available for download that will let you clip any song you want into a ringtone and send it virtually to any phone on any service. Some even work with the iPhone, and many are free.
There's also a digital music service in the UK that's offered the exact service to its users for more than a year now, and it doesn't limit them to a single brand of phone.
The upshot of all this is that the iTunes ringtone service is shining some much-needed light on the DIY ringtone capability, since few know it even exists.
Then there's the pricing issue. OK I can see the argument the labels and publishers may have about a ringtone being a different product from the full song, and therefore a new price is necessary, but try explaining that legalese to your average consumer.
I may pay for a service that lets me make my own ringtone from music I already own, but I'm sure not going to pay for the ringtone itself. How much of a sucker do you think I am?
The fact is that the music industry needs more people buying music digitally. Adding a DIY ringtone service to stores might help increase their traffic. But charging extra for it, however, won't. What's more important -- getting the people already buying music from iTunes to spend a little bit more money, or getting more people using the service overall?