Changing Her Tune on Apple's iPod

By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 22, 2006

I've basically stopped buying music because I'm stuck at a digital music divide.

Every 99-cent song I buy from the iTunes Music Store digs me deeper into an ecosystem that depends on $250 (or more) replacement iPods and closes me off from other cool-but-incompatible devices made by non-Apple Computer companies.

But who among us doesn't find the ease of iTunes totally seductive? The 30-second sample clip? Love it. The option of buying one song off an album? Brilliant. And no more peeling off that super-adhesive tape they put on CD packages!

Once upon a time, music used to account for a measurable chunk of my monthly spending. Now, I agonize, scrutinize, and often forgo clicking "buy" on a song.

I got to this point the way I imagine many others might have.

Three birthdays ago, my generous, tech-loving boyfriend bought me an iridescent green iPod Mini I named Jazzhands. She was cute, light, and way outclassed the generations of Walkman cassette players that came before her.

I loaded my favorite CDs on her. I had her rip playlists from my younger brother Taku's iTunes collection. I even Googled old lyrics, hunting for songs that I then occasionally bought from iTunes.

I loved Jazzhands, but she didn't exactly thrive under my care. She crashed three times -- couldn't be resuscitated -- and each time I sent her back to her maker, who dutifully sent me another Jazzhands until the warranty ran out. Then, about 18 months into our relationship and after the warranty's expiration, her battery got tired. She'd poop out after giving me one song, maybe two -- enough to get me a couple of blocks into my daily commute.

Meanwhile, my friend David showed me his $80 music player made by Creative, which was roughly half the size of Jazzhands and also came with FM radio. It can't jive with iTunes, David told me, but it accepts music formats from pretty much everywhere else.

I felt cheated. I went without music for months after Jazzhands died and found her final resting place on my console table. I considered buying a durable, $40 Walkman -- but of course, iTunes doesn't do cassettes, and I'd given away all my CDs or they were in storage. And besides, who listens to tapes? I write about technology , for crying out loud.

I even felt guilty because Taku and I bought our dad an iPod Nano for Christmas. Now he's stuck, too.

Christopher, my boyfriend, finally ushered in a kind of compromise by buying me a $70 iPod Shuffle. Now I can't choose what I listen to because it randomly serves up songs, but at least I can access my sunken iTunes investments without blowing an additional $250 on Jazzhands II. Plus, I bought Christopher a portable XM Satellite Radio system, which commits us to a monthly subscription but not to a particular digital format.

This way, we don't have to shop for music, he said. "The best thing about this is that it curates that music for you."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company