Minor iTMS Gripes

Monday, 2004-02-09; 23:46:00

Some suggestions for improvement based on my experiences

(Originally posted on AppleXnet)

Now that I've spent over $100 at the iTMS, I figured I'd share a few of the annoyances I've had with it.

First, let's get the "biggest" issue out of the way: credit cards. I don't have one. While I'm probably going to get one somewhere along the line, wanting to download music via the iTMS still hasn't compelled me to get off my chair and apply for a credit card. I was hoping that the second generation of the iTMS (unveiled last October) would make it easier for me to buy music without a credit card.

Does it? Sort of.

When the second generation iTMS was finally released, I immediately IMed a friend that had a credit card to see if he was willing to set me up with an allowance. The idea was that he could credit my iTMS account with a certain amount of money per month, and I would pay him back that exact same amount each month via some other means. That way I would have my music, and he wouldn't be out any money. It's a slight twist on the parent-child idea that caused Apple to implement allowances in the first place.

Originally, my friend tried sending me a gift certificate for $10 to see if I could get money that way. It's just as easy as Apple says it is -- it comes into your e-mail inbox, and all you have to do is click a link to immediately go to the iTMS to redeem the gift certificate. Unfortunately, you have to have an existing account to redeem gift certificates. And since creating an account requires having a credit card, this option was a no-go. On to try allowances.

From the allowance form, it looks like it's basically the same as a gift certificate. My friend set up an allowance for me on the order of $10/month, and told the iTMS to deposit it into my existing Apple ID account. The problem is, I hadn't set up the corresponding iTMS account yet (since it requires a credit card), so the allowance wouldn't go through. That means that giving allowances to existing Apple ID accounts requires the creation of an iTMS account for that Apple ID first, and that requires a credit card.

We now tried a different tactic. When setting up an allowance, you can either have it set up an entirely new Apple ID account, or have it deposit the balance into an existing one. Telling the iTMS to create my Apple ID account might work, we thought, since my iTMS account hadn't been set up already. Unfortunately, the iTMS says that you can't create mac.com iTMS accounts, implying that the account had already been set up. And this makes sense, given that iTMS accounts are tied to the Apple IDs, and I had been using one for a while, now.

Despite my tribulations, it seems that you CAN still create an allowance account that doesn't have any credit card info in it. The only catch is that the Apple ID cannot exist in the first place. That means that anybody with a .mac account cannot hold an allowance account without having a credit card, since the .mac account is equivalent to an Apple ID account (Apple merged the two a few months ago). So, for example, if you have the e-mail address me@somebody.com , and you haven't activated an ADC account or an Apple online store account under this e-mail address, then you could have an allowance account without having a credit card. Of course, you'd still need to find someone to actually give you that allowance.

I suppose this situation won't apply to many potential iTMS users, especially since you need a credit card to set up a .mac account anyway. But I thought it would be worth mentioning anyway.

At this point, I was about to give up, when my friend suggested that he could give me a one-day credit card via PayPal, that would expire that month. So the credit card couldn't be validly used past the date it was issued, but it would be enough to let me into the iTMS. But even using this method, we encountered a small hiccup. The iTMS wouldn't allow expiration dates for the current month and year. I decided to simply select November as the month instead, and the iTMS took it. Note that you still have to enter a physical mailing address and phone number -- the iTMS will not activate an account without this information.

I was finally in. The only thing was that my account said I had $40 in it, not the $20 allowance that my friend gave me the third time he tried setting it up. It appears that once money has been transferred, it cannot be taken back -- so the initial money was given to me for each of the allowances, but no future monthly credits to my account will be made, since my friend had already cancelled all the subscriptions. Annoying: I didn't particularly want to spend $50 that month (I had a total of 2 deactivated $10/month allowances, 1 deactivated $20/month allowance, and 1 $10 gift certificate). We figured it might've been a glitch, so my friend tried creating one more allowance and seeing if that would reset the value. It just went up to $60 (I hadn't yet redeemed the gift certificate).

Another thing that I've noticed is that purchased songs store the name of the purchaser as well as the Apple ID account with which the song is associated. That means my friend's name was appearing on all of my purchased songs. So I just broke down and changed my account to use my dad's credit card. That way at least his name will appear on my purchased songs, not my friend's.

One note about setting up allowances and sending gift certificates -- they won't always go to the e-mail address you expect. When my friend first submitted the first allowance, it went to my dad's e-mail address instead of mine. This is because the primary e-mail address associated with my Apple ID was my dad's, not mine. I had bought some items at the Apple online store, and my dad wanted the confirmation receipts, so I set the e-mail for my Apple ID account to be his. What's bizarre is that the Apple ID itself is an e-mail address, so it would make more sense just to use that e-mail address instead. I guess this allows you to continue to use an outdated e-mail address as an Apple ID, but it just adds to the confusion.

After all that rigamarole, I was finally able to purchase some music. If you're into electronic music, I'd highly recommend you check out Behind the Sun, by Chicane. You may recognize "Halcyon" from the flat-panel iMac promo video that Apple provided when it first introduced the G4 iMac back in January 2002. That was the first album I've ever purchased via the iTMS.

What are my other gripes about the iTMS? Well, first of all, you can't take back a gift certificate. That would be aggravating if you accidentally gave the wrong e-mail address or amount. Thankfully, Apple provides a confirmation page. I've also seen instances where the amount credited to your account from gift certificates or allowances isn't updated after a purchase, so it doesn't always reflect the actual credit amount in your account. That could mean the difference between being able to purchase an album or not.

Another concern I have about Apple's system is the concern about transferring my bought music to someone else. What happens if I want to give the gift of a specific song to someone? What if I stop liking the song and want to make some money back on it by selling it to someone else? Can someone else use my music? This "murky ground" has already been tread upon, but the solution was less elegant than I would've liked -- you have to transfer your ENTIRE Apple ID account to the recipient of the song sale.

A related issue that hasn't been brought up is when dealing with the death of someone who has purchased iTMS music. With physical CDs, a relative could easily put those CDs to use on his own computer. But with iTMS music, a person may not have revealed his password to anyone, locking up the music forever. So nobody else could use that legitimately purchased music, and hundreds of dollars would be thrown out the window.

In light of this, I think it would be a nice gesture if Apple provided a way to transfer music between accounts. It shouldn't be a problem with the RIAA, because Apple can easily enforce the restrictions on music using it's FairPlay technology -- it would be relatively straightforward: just have iTunes change the Apple ID with which the music is associated. If the seller kept a copy, he would still have to know the Apple ID and password of the receiver in order to play the music. The seller couldn't practically keep the music file.

There's two more small things that would be a nice touch. First, full-minute previews. Thirty seconds is a little short to get the feel for the song, especially if the iTMS is supposed to be a place where you find and buy new music. If you can't listen to a bigger portion of the song, how do you know you'll like it? And when you download music, I wish it could transfer the play count from the songs that the purchased music is replacing. That would be handy.

But don't let my gripes fool you. I think the iTMS is great, and I'll probably be buying most of my songs/albums from the iTMS. It just could be a little bit better.

-- simX

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