For the past couple of years, those who follow the online music industry have predicted Apple will eventually fire up a subscription music service through its iTunes Music Store.
Yet Steve Jobs has been adamantly against charging iTunes customers a monthly fee in return for downloading songs. For Jobs, Apple and iTunes it’s always been about customers purchasing song and CD downloads. You pay the price, you download the song, you keep the song.
But now iTunes is launching something that, although not a subscription service like Napster or Real Networks, does provide a lot of music for a single fee.
It’s called “iTunes Pass” and Depeche Mode is the first to sign onto what looks like Apple’s very first venture into anything resembling subscription music.
While iTunes Pass does offer a set price for downloading a lot of music from one band for a limited time, it hardly goes as far as other online subscription deals. Under those business plans, users pay a monthly fee for downloading all they music they want. However, because the tracks are protected by digital rights management technology (DRM), the service is in ultimate control of those songs. Cancel your subscription and the service cancels your ability to play the music.
But iTunes is dropping DRM. And since the major labels can’t seem to wrap their collective heads around eMusic’s simple subscription plan that calls for a set number of non-DRM downloads for a monthly fee, the new iTunes Pass is more like additional value for a band rather than a music subscription.
The idea behind iTunes Pass is, for a fee, fans can snag extra tracks, remixes and whatever else the artist and/or label decides to put in the mix.
But no one is really sure as to whether Apple will launch additional iTunes Passes for other bands. In fact, Apple isn’t really talking about the new service, leaving Depeche Mode and its label, EMI, pounding the publicity pavement.
In Depeche Mode’s case, fans can download a new single called “Wrong,” as well as the Black Light Odyssey dub remix of another new track – “Oh Well.” Fans signing up for a Depeche Mode iTunes Pass will also receive the band’s new album – Songs Of The Universe – one week before it hits stores on April 21.
Interested? It’s $18.99 to sign up.
“The relationship between Depeche Mode and their fans has always been our top priority,” band manager Jonathan Kessler said. “We are thrilled to be the first to participate with Apple in giving fans the kind of deep musical experience they expect from Depeche Mode.”
Fusion’s Better Idea
IPods are great for taking your music with you. Whether you’re sunning on the beach, traveling in a jet plane or jogging through your favorite park, iPods make it possible for you to listen to your music where you want and when you want.
But connecting an iPod to your car’s stereo system is often a different story.
You can try those low-powered FM transmitters that beam your iPod’s contents to an unused channel on your FM receiver. That is, if you don’t mind putting up with all the little idiosyncrasies like static, signal fade and unoccupied channels suddenly becoming occupied when you arrive in a new city.
There are also complete stereo systems claiming to be iPod compatible. At best these systems include a docking mechanism and enable drivers to control the player through their stereo. At worst, the connection consists of an auxiliary input hookup, and you have to buy the cable. But hey, it’s still better than those FM hookups.
Considering how music fans have flocked to iPods since Apple rolled out its first-generation model back in 2001, you’d think automobile stereos would have kept up with times. But more often than not, playing your iPod through your car stereo means messing around with cables, checking connections and, if you go the FM route, pointing your player at your stereo in hopes of receiving better fidelity.
That’s why New Zealand-based Fusion Electronics’ new iPod head unit for car stereos grabbed our attention. And our first thought was why don’t more manufacturers do it this way?
The “way” in this case is how Fusion Electronics’ iPod system, tagged with the very unsexy name CA-IP500, handles iPod connectivity. Instead of wires, FM transmitters and/or auxiliary cables, the CA-IP500 makes connecting your iPod to your car’s stereo system as easy as sliding a compact disc into your auto’s CD player.
At first glance the CA-IP500 looks like any other car stereo head unit. However, the faceplate flips open revealing an internal iPod docking station. Slide your player in, close the faceplate, and you’re ready to rock while you roll.
And if you’re wondering how it’s compatible with all the different iPod flavors available, Fusion’s answer is up its sleeve.
As in plastic sleeves. The CA-IP500 is compatible with iPod Classic generations 5 and 6, the iTouch and iPod Nano generations 2 and 3. Since those models come in slightly different sizes, Fusion supplies plastic sleeves. Slip your iPod in the appropriate sleeve, slide the sleeve and your iPod into your CA-IP500 and you’re good to go.
Fusion Electronics introduced the CA-IP500 internationally in June 2008, but just recently brought it to the States. So far, Best Buy is the exclusive U.S. dealer, and the price is $250. But anyone who has ever had to deal with FM transmitters, auxiliary hookups and external docking stations would probably consider that money well spent.
Not only did PC World recently review the CA-IP500, but the magazine also produced a short video showing how it works.
And for another take on the CA-IP500, please check out CNET’s review here.
We’re not saying the CA-IP500 is the ultimate answer for iPod satisfaction in car stereo. Reports of the faceplate snapping off too easily and iPods coming loose and rattling around behind the faceplate indicate Fusion Electronics may need to tweak the head unit.
But it beats FM transmitters and hanging cables. If you spend most of your quality iPod time driving, Fusion Electronics’ CA-IP500 just might make your next trip a sonic joy on wheels.