It took flying to London on an airline owned by an Apple competitor to give me some insight into where this whole digital music thing is headed. Okay, I grant you, after 24+ hours with no sleep, the old noodle is sputtering and slipping a bit, but try to bear with me and I’ll do my best to keep from blathering.
As you might have guessed, the competitor I speak of is Virgin-Atlantic. Those who’ve flown Virgin know that Branson’s planes allow you to pick from among 30 different movies to watch on a personal monitor attached to the seat in front of you (a seat, I might mention, that is a little too close for comfort). The system works very much like TiVo (both, I discovered after accidentally resetting my personal viewer, are based on Linux). Just cycle through a menu and choose the movie you want to watch. As with TiVo, feel free to pause, fast-forward, and rewind the film.
Of course this turned my mind to video-on-demand, which — because I have a particular interest in the subject — led me to ponder audio-on-demand and how digital players such as the iPod might fit into the equation.
This presupposes that being able to call up any piece of music you’d care to listen to is a thing to be desired. For the sake of argument (and the success of this piece), let’s say it is.
How would this be accomplished? Perhaps it’s because I was zipping along some 35,000 feet above the ground but it seemed to me that such a scheme works best when music rains down from the heavens. No, I’m not asking for divine intervention. Rather, I’m suggesting that an essential building block for this is already in place — satellite radio.
Satellite radio demonstrates that you can stream music from the heavens above to a compatible receiver. Suppose that receiver was built into a portable music player — a future iPod, for example. And suppose that receiver could also transmit — send a signal back upstairs asking the system to send down any of the 500 million tracks in its database. Suddenly all the world’s music is quite literally at your fingertips.
Technological barriers aside, such a system would have to be paid for and the only way I can conceive of that happening is through a subscription. I know, I know, Apple has soundly derided music subscriptions models as a means to obtaining music from the iTunes Music Store, but when we take this next step forward we must make adjustments. I’m not suggesting the kind of subscription model from the bad old days — one where you only rented your music for as long as you pay the subscription service’s piper. Rather, this would be a two-tiered system where you get music-on-demand for a monthly fee and then if you wished to own a particular piece of music, navigate to the Buy screen, click a button, and the music is yours for good and all.
Pie in the sky? Perhaps. But in this case, the skies may be the limit.