Last Updated Aug. 12, 2011
Easy to use
Great iPod integration
No a la carte/monthly plans
No web streaming
$0.99 - $9.99+, depending on content
I feel sorry for CD stores. In the face of the iTunes Store, they just don’t seem to make sense anymore. After all, the iTunes Store offers a bigger selection, better pricing, and an easier integration with the iPod than any CD store ever could.
The iTunes Store is the 800-pound gorilla of the digital media marketplace. No one has sold more songs or driven more expansion of the kinds of media available to legally download, while also providing an elegant, integrated experience with a digital media player.
There’s no question that iTunes is at the top of the heap – the store that Rhapsody, Napster, and every major CD chain wants to be like. And with good reason – it’s a great service. As anyone who has used it much knows, the iTunes Store has an amazing selection of songs and albums to browse, preview, and buy.
In recent years, Apple has also solidified its video offerings--TV selection is especially strong, but movies have improved, too--and continued to build its library of audiobooks, podcasts, and iPod games. The most recent major change is the offering of apps for iOS devices via the App Store.
All this content works easily and smoothly with all iPod models, making the complete experience of using the iTunes Store with the iPod simple and satisfying.
Web Service Challenges
Still, not everything is perfect with the iTunes Store. Despite being a store that exists on the web, other stores offer web services in music and video may become more compelling that iTunes.
Buying a lot of music at iTunes costs a lot of money, making a service that offers flat-fee plans, such as Spotify or to a lesser extent eMusic, very attractive. The introduction of Spotify in the U.S., which offers unlimited streaming of a nearly unlimited music library for just $5/month, may pose a particular challenge to iTunes since its offering and pricing are much more appealing for heavy music consumers. And while iCloud offers some useful features, they don't really address Spotify's advantages over iTunes.
ITunes' offerings on the video side have become much more robust, but it's hard to see the upside of buying video at iTunes, and only occasionally renting at iTunes, in the face of Netflix, whose streaming options--and pricing--are increasingly comprehensive and appealing. Netflix plans start as low as about $8 a month for unlimited streaming; $8 would net only 2-3 movie rentals at iTunes.
The Bottom Line
Despite these issues, the iTunes Store is still a terrific place to fill your iPod – and you'll never need to wait in line at a CD store again.
As the digital entertainment world matures and our devices--in our cars, living rooms, pockets--become more powerful and connected, though, it will behoove users to keep an eye on competing services. ITunes is still top dog, for now, but there are a lot of increasingly compelling options.