Today's version 1.1.1 firmware update for the Apple iPhone turns on the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store: The store's name describes its limitations, recall. It's for Wi-Fi, not EDGE; it's music, not video. Within those limitations, the service is pretty grand. Those who bought the iPod touch a few days have already seen how it works, but this is my first exposure. The interface is just as nifty as the rest of the iPhone. (Apple is slick enough to have a well-produced and inoffensive video demonstration from Mr. iPhone, a very calm fellow who performed on the initial iPhone video demo. I hope he releases a sleep tape, too.)
You click the iTunes logo on the home screen of the iPhone, and--as long as you're connected to a Wi-Fi network--see a list of featured songs. You can browse by genre, look at top 10 lists by genre, or get to the heart of it by clicking Search. The Search screen unexpectedly shows a blank page with a search field at the top. Apple should improve the UI here to give some indication that something didn't just go wrong, which was my impression.
As you start typing in the search field, options are displayed immediately, a nice feature that relies on a Web 2.0-like mechanism, surely (it's very AJAXy). It also means that you avoid tediously typing, entering, retyping, correcting. If you get it wrong, you just deleted a character and re-enter, and see the new choices as you type.
The results are intelligently displayed, showing artists and album names. Select one, and you see the results sorted into Albums at the top and Songs below. Two albums are shown with a prompt to see more if there are; 25 songs are displayed, and a link to view another 25.
Tap a song, and a 30-second preview starts to play. Tap the price to the right, and it flips around to display Buy Song. Tap that, and you're prompted to log in with your iTunes Store password (not sure how often you're prompted for that password; iTunes itself only stores it for a period of time, although that behavior can be changed through preferences). After entering your password, a red marker jumps--it's pretty animation--down into the Downloads icon at the bottom, and the song begins to download.
When you dock your iPhone (or iPod touch) the next time, music purchased is synchronized back.
Apple's changed the face of digital music buying. Again. When will they stop? Oh, yeah, Amazon entered the market this week with a beta version of their DRM-free MP3 store with prices 30 to 40 cents lower than comparable unprotected tracks from Apple. But you'll have to buy those songs at a computer, not on an iPhone.