Why I don't want an iPhone

Future Tense for Apr. 23, 2007

By Steve Welker

We're on the final countdown to Apple's release of the iPhone.

Apple hasn't confirmed a shipping date -- CNet back in March quoted a Cingular source who said June 11; Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer in April promised "late June" -- but the iPhones should arrive in time for my birthday, June 29.

The iPhone probably will be the "cell phone of the year" and every gadget geek's must-have new toy, but I don't want one.

That has little to do with the price ($499 or $599 depending on storage) or being obligated to sign up with Cingular.

No, I don't want a cell phone that doubles as an iPod because, if I can download and play music whenever the muse moves me, I'll never get anything else done.

Music moves me. I can't say I love everything musical -- not rap, not heavy metal and definitely not Yanni -- but I have broad and eclectic tastes. Plenty of Internet services all stand ready to supply whatever I want from their multi-million-tune libraries.

With an iPhone in hand and a mood for Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood,” I could punch in Pennsylvania 6-5000 faster than a Chattanooga choo-choo.

If I'm feeling blue? “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

For an instant replay of “Freeze Frame” when I "Just Can't Wait," I'd quickly dial my way in to the "Land of a Thousand Dances." You "Jus' Can't Stop Me." (With apologies to J. Geils and Magic Dick.)

For only the cost of a minute’s time on the line (the estimate for an average download; 17-minute-long “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” will take somewhat longer) plus one to two bucks for the song itself, I could wallow in instant musical gratification.

And soon I'd be harmonizing and sympathizing with David Lee Roth, Bob Seger or Donna Summer — take your pick or take all three — singing “I Ain’t Got No Money.”

“Money, Money” (from “Cabaret”) or “Money, Money, Money” (from Abba) — it’s all about the money.

Verizon Wireless says a suitably equipped cell phone will hold 34 hours’ worth of its downloadable music, or approximately 500 songs. At an average of $3 apiece, that’s $1,500! Compared to that, the $15 per month for “V Cast” service seems almost trivial.

Sprint Music Store’s cell phone downloads cost $2.50 — a mere $1,250 for 500.

If I don't want to go broke, I'd be a lot safer buying a 1-GB iPod Nano for about $135, paying $500 for 500 songs from iTunes and risking not having “Take a Chance” (Olivia Newton John? No, Bonnie Tyler) while I’m racing down Wards Gap Road.

Seriously, I love music and I love digital downloads and, IMHO, this is the best era for music since the 1960s. Once again I’m enjoying a huge variety of styles and innovations, like will.i.am’s new hip-hop production of Sergio Mendes’ classic “Brasil 66.”

Forty years ago, when “Mais Que Nada” briefly knocked The Beatles down a few notches on the pop charts, we kids heard new songs on AM radio. FM didn’t come into its own until the 1970s. And we bought records in stores like Pearson's on Calendar Street in LaGrange, Ill., or Rose's downtown in the Loop. Pearson's had a half-dozen carrels equipped with turntables and headphones. I could go to the clerk and request a record, take a store copy to the booth and play it. This is how many of us “discovered” B tracks (the “flip” sides) that never made it to the airwaves.

We usually bought songs on “45s” — 7-inch-wide vinyl platters with a 1.5-inch hole in the middle that made it easier for juke boxes to handle. Each side held about four minutes of music — two songs per record. As I recall, they cost 49 cents. We didn’t buy albums unless more than two songs made it to the top 20.

Now leap back to today.

Apple’s iTunes Music Store opened for business four years ago this Saturday (April 28, 2003). It took three years to sell its first 1 billion downloads and less than nine months to sell its second billion. iTunes started with 200,000 files; today it offers more than 3.5 million. Listening to the 30-second sample snippet of each one would fill your ears with “The Sound of Music” from now until Labor Day 2010 — assuming you took no time off for sleep, showers or sex (the iTunes Music Store has 86 different versions of Ravel’s “Bolero” — an item worth noting if you're old enough to remember Bo Derek in the movie “Ten.”).

It's no secret that many people in the record-manufacturing industrystrongly fear the success of iTunes and other digital downloading services. Six years ago, the industry sold 762.8 million CDs; in 2006, it sold less than 555 million.

Meanwhile, downloading grows at 6 percent per quarter.

The record industry continues to obsess over piracy and copyright violations. I believe the industry was a victim of its own greed. Distributing songs via the Internet costs the industry nothing for blank disks, jewel boxes, printing or handling, so why should I or anyone else pay $15 to $20 for the CD version of an album?

The P2P (peer-to-peer) networks started to share music because CDs seemed over priced — and they did the same thing with 8-tracks and cassettes long before digital copying became possible. Now that a legal download costs 99 cents —only twice as much as I paid for a single 45 some 40 years ago — I don’t mind paying it; heck, it’s a bargain, in part because it’s so convenient.

That convenience, however, may come at a price — to the customer who can’t resist an impulse buy.

For example, I’ve got “Brasil 66” on vinyl at home, so I don’t really need to buy another copy. But the album is scratchy and there’s some wow and flutter on the turntable (if you know what “wow” and “flutter” mean, you probably were born before 1975). However, Sergio Mendes recently released an updated version with guest appearances by Stevie Wonder, India.Arie, John Legend, Jill Scott and others. Plus, “Timeless” costs only $9.99 on iTunes.

If I had an iPhone in hand, I could surrender to the impulse and be shuffling my feet to a bossa nova beat right now.

But then who knows when I'd finish this column ... in the future.

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