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iPod goes wireless

I haven't played with the iPod Touch yet, but I think it's a safe bet that Apple has done another fine upgrade, giving people yet more reasons to buy an iPod. What it hasn't done, unlike some other Wi-Fi enabled players, is change the game for music fans.

Enabling people to buy 99 cent tracks wherever they have a Wi-Fi connection will probably lead to more impulse purchases. Whether that translates into more sales overall, though, depends on whether consumers compensate for their Wi-Fi purchases by buying less when they're at their computers or the local CD shop. Personally, I don't think music sales have tanked over the past six years because it was too hard to buy music, or because people weren't able to buy when their urge was strongest.

For Wi-Fi to be a real game-changer, users would have to be able to load their players with songs they don't pay extra for -- in other words, it would require a subscription model. That's what the Sansa Connect does with Yahoo's subscription-music service. Ideally, users could quickly add tracks to their players when they're at a club, a cafe or any place else with a soundtrack. Microsoft's version of this -- enabling people with Zunes to download temporary copies of tracks from other people with Zunes nearby -- is hampered by the scarcity of people with Zunes. Plus, having a track go dead after three plays is a lousy user experience.

I know, Steve Jobs is no fan of subscriptions. And he's hardly alone. They make a lot of sense for people with big musical appetites and broad tastes, not so much for those with small appetites or a willingness to download tracks without paying for them. But Wi-Fi without access to an unlimited library of tracks just doesn't seem like much fun to me. 

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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