Business-wise, it seems pretty sound. I'll pay 99¢ a pop for tunes if they stay out of my face about how I use them. This has to be seen as good news, and evidence that Apple is a little smarter than your average computer company. Herewith some pros and cons of this (I think) important new offering. (Updated 4/29 with comments on pricing and Web Architecture.)
Item: Only in the States · I guess the picture above pretty well says it. I can see why this happens; in fact it's pretty remarkable that Apple managed to cut the deal they did with the record labels. At the end of the day, this feels like a business triumph, not a technology triumph.
Item: Web Architecture · Paolo Valdemarin points out that there's a big goof here; the individual tracks and albums on the store really need URIs, so that people can bookmark and mail and build lists and syndicate and index with them, and all the other wonderful things the Web allows, most of which haven't been thought up yet.
The Interface is Mostly Good · The new iTunes 4 UI feels pretty well thought-out to me. Nit: every time you do a search you get a new screen, so you have to hit “back” as many times as you searched. But the browser interface is very nice. It seems like the entire universe is converging on the three-paned-window metaphor for UI.
Item: The Big Five Are Not The Universe · I would think that in the arty/eclectic Apple customer base, there are a lot of people who like a lot of music that doesn't come from the Big Five. For example, a quick scan around reveals that there's little or nothing there from Desmond Dekker, Ferron, Philip Glass, Michel Jonasz, Gideon Kremer, Georges Moustaki, Arvo Pärt, Jennifer Warnes...
The absence of the ECM label is rather damaging, they carry a really remarkably good collection of essential music not available anywhere else. For example, along with all of Pärt and Kremer, you miss out on everything by Pat Metheny that's worth listening to.
I'm pretty sure that unless Apple is either egregiously stupid or they have a deal with the majors that excludes the minors, every small/indie/boutique label in the world is lined up outside Apple's door trying to get into this fabulous distribution channel.
For example, Naxos, the purveyors of ureasonably cheap, unreasonably good classical recordings (hint: no big-name international stars, just wonderful musicians who need the gig and play their hearts out) really ought to be here.
And, for the people they do have, they seem to do a reasonable job on the back catalog. Exception: they, like every used or new record store on the planet, don't have the material from Neil Young's rare On The Beach. Also, the Gram Parson/Emmylou Harris Sleepless Nights collaboration isn't there.
Item: Product Grouping is Very Sensible · Updated 4/29.
The pricing seems to work like this, based on a few samples:
AAC Skepticism · The new audio format, part of the MPEG-4 suite, is being talked up like the second coming of Christ. I have news for everyone, the evidence would suggest that there just isn't that much more room to improve the size/quality trade-off for digitally encoded music. I really doubt that the new format will meet the needs of insane audiophiles like me (I'd be delighted to be proven wrong). And good old MP3 worked just fine for listening to music on the road (car, plane, airport, whatever).
So I'm underwhelmed by this, so far.
Good On Ya, Apple · It's about time someone kicked the music biz upside the head and got them to start acting sensible. Long past time, in fact. Glad to see it happen.