The End of iTunes?


There's no question that iTunes was a game-changer for Apple.  

But has the time come for it to just... go away?

I'm certainly not saying that the things iTunes does need to go away. 

I'm saying that the application, as it currently exists, should go away - and instead become a part of the core OSX experience. 

If iTunes' many disparate functions were integrated into the operating system, Apple would benefit in 2 ways: 
  • iTunes' several mismatched functions, many of which bear little or no connection to a music application (i.e., the App Store), could be logically separated. 
(Put yourself in the mindset of a new Apple user. If you're interested in buying Angry Birds, or restoring a backup image of your phone or tablet, why would you launch your music player?)

  • The things that iTunes currently does could run more elegantly without the need to launch a heavy, resource-hogging, multiple-use application. 
iTunes started out as a companion to the iPod. iPods were music-only, and iTunes was music only. It fit. 

And it initially made sense that we'd control our iPhones within the same application. But music is only one aspect of what an iPhone can do... so iTunes has had to metastasize and take on non-music functions. 

How did iTunes Get So Big?

iTunes was introduced on January 9, 2001, and in the dozen years since, iTunes has changed Apple from a niche PC company to a multimedia juggernaut. 

Apple just led us through a decade of innovation unlike anything the world has ever seen. Ever.

But "Apple Can No Longer Innovate", the analysts say. 

And iTunes is, increasingly, Part of the Problem. 

As Apple has grown, iTunes has taken on more roles - as our music library, our App Store, our bookstore, our movie rental hub. 

It's an application that contains multitudes. 

It's a device manager, combined with a bloated conglomeration of media silos that don't often have any obvious relationship to each other - other than the fact that they fit in the nebulous concept of "media". Movies. Books. Podcasts. University lectures. Music. 

iTunes' purpose is no longer obvious. 

It's part of the problem. It is a pain to launch. It does things that have nothing whatsoever to do with "Tunes". 

But it can also be part of the solution. 

Bear with me here - it may be time to kill iTunes, in order to save it. 

We hosted our family at the AAAD household over Christmas - as I'm sure many of you did, too. 

And, like many of you, iDevices were central to our entertaining. We watched shows and movies on our AppleTV, we streamed holiday music through our AirPlay network, using our iPhones. It just worked.

Except once, when I couldn't locate my music library from my iPhone, because the iTunes application had been closed on our iMac. 

Annoying. Off to the office, to wake up the iMac, start iTunes, and head back to the family room.

Why should iTunes have to be an open application, on a computer I'm not using?

In fact, why should iTunes be an application at all?

What are iTunes' primary functions? There are many, but at the bottom of everything, there are two functions:

1) iTunes is a Manager for our iDevices. 

....backing them up, performing factory restores, adding specific media to a phone or iPad, and so forth. 

When you upgrade your iPhone, you (very likely) make a stop at iTunes in order to transfer your contacts, apps and settings. 

This is a function that makes sense for our primary PC. While many iPhone users have never synced their phone to a computer, your PC (or, ideally, your Mac) gives you the control that you need (or, at least, that you may prefer) when handling iDevices. 

2) iTunes is a Manager for our Media. 

....all of it. Audio, Video, iOS Apps... everything right down to the voicemail on our iPhone. 

Originally, music management was iTunes' sole function. It started out as a companion application for our iPods. 

Hence, the name "iTunes"!

(For the younger folks out there, an "iPod" was a handheld device that only played music. Apparently, Apple still sells them!)

Within iTunes, we'd generate playlists, add album artwork, and fix the metadata on our many, many mislabeled MP3 and AAC files. 

(Hey, don't judge! Yes, much of this problem descended from file-sharing, but even our legitimate ripped CDs predated GraceNote, and wound up with no track information. Just "TRACK 1", "TRACK 2" and so on, on an unnamed "ALBUM" by an unnamed "ARTIST".)

These days, managing media doesn't just mean re-naming album tracks. Increasingly (perhaps primarily), it means media acquisition

Hence, the iTunes Music Store, iTunes App Store, and iTunes Bookstore - which are, (on our Macs, anyway) more or less merged into the iTunes application. 

We still need (or, at least, want) THIS function on our PCs, as well. However....

Neither Of These Primary Functions Require a Standalone Application. 

And more to the point, complete integration of ALL of iTunes functions into OSX Mavericks would be a massive improvement, both in terms of user friendliness and clarity of purpose. 

And, it would provide yet another avenue for Apple to provide a superior user experience on the Mac platform. 

iTunes would no longer be a "program" that runs on your Mac - it would be a suite of services built into the OS itself. 

Consider device management. 

Currently, when you plug your iPad into your iMac in order to, say, manage apps - that's a cue for the iTunes program to auto-run. 

You're generally greeted with your entire music library, with a floating window asking some iPad specific question. You navigate through the iTunes library, click on the button representing your iMac, and get to work. 

There's no compelling reason that iTunes needs to be involved here at all. 

Plug in your iPhone (or, even better, just select any device on your network from the system tray), a built-in iOS application launches - and you're greeted with that specific iPhone's settings. 

From this window, you could browse and manage the apps stored on your Mac, and on your iDevice - and have the same access to the iOS App Store that's currently in iTunes.

An iOS control-panel, for doing iOS things. Go figure. 

But what about media management?

This is where full integration would really shine. In our current application-based concept, the music library exists within the iTunes application.  

If you want to serve that music (or other media) elsewhere, the iTunes application has to be running. 

And more and more, we're serving our media elsewhere. We don't want to hear our music through our  computer speakers in the office - we want to hear it over our stereo speakers in the family room!

We don't want to watch TV shows and movies on our iMac - we watch them on our iPads. Or our AppleTVs!

The fact that a particular application has to be running on a particular computer in order for our media library to be available is, frankly, silly. 

Our iTunes library should be accessible, playable, and manageable within OSX itself - and should also function as a media server - always available, and visible to every iDevice on the network. 

There is no compelling reason that we need to launch a standalone application in order to perform the music management functions performed by iTunes. 

Any media-management-specific functions could (and should) be available DIRECTLY within OSX Mavericks - even if that means accessing the folder containing our music library. 

And yes, that folder could reside in the dock, with the familiar blue circle logo - and should be called "iTunes". 

In fact, nothing about the current iTunes media library interface would have to change at all!

A music library called "iTunes". Imagine that.

(And yes, video management could stay in this folder - or it could be shunted off to an iPad-style "Videos" folder. Either way.)

But what about the iTunes Music Store? What about the App Store?

First off, break them up in OSX, the way they're broken up in iOS. 

There's no reason that I should be shopping for Apps or books in "iTunes". 

It's completely nonsensical - something that Microsoft would have done during the "Windows Me" period. It's miles beneath Apple. 

Both stores should be integrated into OSX - up to the point of making store content permanently available and visible as a slide-out where the notification center currently resides.

And yes, we should be presented with the App Store, or the iTunes Music store, when performing iOS device management or music management, respectively. 

Finally, both stores should join the Mac App Store with circle icons in the Dock - it's a bit silly that the least-used Apple Store has sole claim to that valuable real estate. (The Launchpad and Maps can leave to make room.)

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, integrating all of the current functions of iTunes (even up to and including music management) directly into OSX will result in a more useful Mac experience, and a vastly simplified iTunes experience.

There's no reason that iTunes should be an application. 

There's certainly no reason that iTunes should be an application that controls your phone and your books. 

And ultimately, breaking up all of iTunes disparate functions - while making them more immediately available when you want them - will help Apple's bottom line, too. 

The Mac, itself, as the center of your digital life - with no iTunes application required! That's innovation. 

That's Thinking Different. 


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