Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
The iPod and iTunes haven't ostensibly suffered for (and have arguably gained from the) lack of a subscription music service. However, while such services have proven a tough sell to consumers at large, they have their benefits. One is the general liberation from the 30-second sample, a tiny prison of time that makes it difficult to engage in meaningful music discovery, the silver lining in the digital cloud that has been raining on the music industry for so many years.
In contrast to Rhapsody, Napster and Microsoft's Zune Pass, which offer several ways within their software for subscribers to hear full tracks in which they might be interested, Apple has recently turned "out of band" for music discovery. The high-profile announcement with Starbucks at the introduction of Apple's latest round of iPods brings the portable devices to where the free music is rather than vice versa. Among Apple's portable music players, the automatic track identification works only with the iPod touch and the iPhone. However, the flat-panel televisions in New York City Starbucks locations also note PCs and Macs as suitable (and prevalent) clients for purchasing music played at the popular coffee retailer.
An encouraging aspect of the collaboration between Starbucks and Apple is that the right company is making the brown product. However, one hot spot of trouble brewing in this Half-n-Half is that one can listen to the music only at a Starbucks location. This begs whether Apple would continue such a partnership when the iPhone finally gets access to 3G (perhaps to the scandalous exclusion of AT&T) or whether it or another device such as the iPod touch embrace WiMAX. But extending access to Starbucks' percolated playlists need not wait for such wireless advances. The two companies could enable access via a simple option in iTunes that would stream Starbucks' Hear Music XM station -- or an equivalent -- via any broadband connection.