Bones

Hey Apple, iTunes Sucks. Fix it, please.

What the hell happened to iTunes? It’s gone from the most capable digital storage and catalog application to a bloated flea market of personal media. iTunes 11 is difficult to navigate and fraught with flaws. Fixing iTunes should be a top priority for Apple. If it’s not, and they allow this mess to continue, it might prove to be their wounded Achille’s heel, that brings Apple to its knees.

I don’t believe I’m overstating the importance of iTunes and the dire consequences of its failings. If you know the history of Apple and the second coming of Steve Jobs, you know the pivotal role iTunes played in Apple’s early 21st century resurrection and success. iTunes is the cornerstone of Apple’s success in mobile electronics. iTunes made the iPod, iPhone, and iPad functional– and wildly popular. In a post I wrote two years ago, I called iTunes “Apple’s 8 Year Head Start.”
 
I’ve been using iTunes since it was called SoundJam. SoundJam was a Mac OS application designed to work with MP3 players that came to market before the first iPod. It was built by two former Apple employees, Jeff Robbin and Bill Kincaid. Robbin and Kincaid published SoundJam with Casady & Greene. When Apple purchased SoundJam in 2000, Kincaid and Robbin rejoined Apple along with their collaborator Dave Heller. According to Wikipedia, Robbin is still Apple’s lead iTunes developer. Apple released the original iTunes in January 2001. The iTunes software and its iTunes Store portal have been free since their debut.
 
iTunes once managed audio files. Now it’s tasked with managing and selling any salable digital media.

The most damning criticism I can make of iTunes is that it has come to resemble Microsoft software products. It has long been in need of a complete rethink and overhaul. Yet, Apple continues to add on capabilities and conduits that have bloated the software into an unmanageable mess.

According to Apple, iTunes works best when files are kept locally on the host computer. In other words, if you’re trying to play music, or sync your iDevice by a direct connection, it’s best to have all your media stored on your computer’s hard drive. But the real-world nature of digital media makes this a poor solution. In my case, I choose to keep my iTunes Media (entertainment media and mobile applications) on an AirPort Extreme Base Station connected via ethernet to my home network. That way, files may be accessed from any of the 3 computers in my home.
 
It makes no sense to duplicate those files across all my devices, occupying disk space on the 3 computers, 2 iPhones, and iPad. Yet, the networked solution works poorly. We use one iTunes account to purchase, rent, and download media (and apps from the Mac App store). It’s seemingly impossible to sync the one library across all devices. What’s more, Apple TV requires access to a computer with an open iTunes application to access media from a home iTunes library. Why can’t I just point Apple TV– or any playback application- to my one iTunes Media folder? Of course, I can access my media via the “cloud” with the iMatch (that requires a $25 annual subscription). But that has proved to be far less than perfect.
 
Other iTunes anomalies include: duplicate files, lost album art, the dreaded rainbow ball, (recently) CD access failure– both importing music and burning CDs. The most annoying problem is disappearing music and odd playback malfunctions. iMatch does not recognize literally thousands of files from audio files ripped from CDs and music purchased on iTunes. Certain tracks have been curiously truncated.
 
My first suggestion to Apple regarding iTunes would be to retire it and start over. iTunes should be reconfigured as at least 4 applications. The individual applications would focus on one main task or function:

  1. Library – one that syncs, and clearly separates media categories
  2. Shop – that adopts the Apple Store– less is more– aesthetic
  3. Mobile Device Sync – manufacturer and OS agnostic (I know, revolutionary)
  4. Playback – that works the same on computers, iDevices, Apple TV

 
These should be connected applications, not one catchall solution. Individual software teams should focus on optimizing their specific, separate products, making them the best Apple experiences possible.

 

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