Hard Times for iTunesPosted: March 1, 2011
Remember when iTunes was introduced way back in January 2001? If you do, I can’t relate – I was only 11 and still happily blasting T. rex on my Dad’s iMac. What I do remember though, is how iPods shot up in popularity throughout middle school and exploded as the must-have accessory in high school. Other MP3 players were around too, but they never scratched the surface of the iPod’s massive market. I think the reason is twofold. First, the iPod had (and still has) unmatched design. The slick white gloss coupled with the oh-so-scratchable stainless steel made it look like a true product of the new millennium. It didn’t hurt that it was instantly labeled as a “fashion accessory” by disparaging nerds – looking classy is actually popular with many regular people.
The other reason is surely iTunes. Prior to Apple’s solution, MP3 players required you to copy all your music by hand, song by song, into specific folders. Not so hard the first few times, but it turns monotonous quickly. Enter “syncing” – the concept of having a digital jukebox that allows you to easily and quickly select prearranged tracks, albums, and compilations to copy to your device with the press of a mouse button. This process revolutionized how the general public viewed digital music, along with an easy purchasing system built right in.
Nowadays, iTunes is hardly the cool new thing. In fact, iTunes is about the antithesis of “cutting-edge.” Tasked with video, tv shows, podcast, ebook, radio, and mobile app support to keep up with Apple’s ever-more capable iDevices, iTunes has become the technological equivalent of the very people who first ridiculed it. That is to say: bloated, slow-moving, inflexible, and slightly unstable. Hell, it’s still written in Carbon for goodness sake. Lately, the Android community in particular has become very fond of scoffing at silly iOS users who can’t manually copy music without it. But hold on a second – that’s where we were before iTunes was introduced. If manual transferring is so great, why does doubletwist exist?
Watts Martin has a great new post in which he rips the manual-is-better argument to shreds. The old “I want control over my device” viewpoint only holds water if you don’t mind strenuously maintaining that device. And I’d say that automatically updating all your media every time you plug your phone into your computer is a pretty decent tradeoff. Yes, you play by Apple’s rules, but you get peace of mind and ease of use in return for your troubles. Don’t take my word for it, most of the MP3 player market seems to agree with me. There is a reason that iTunes is Apple’s most-installed product. It might not be perfect, but it’s leagues ahead of doing everything yourself. Not only that, but the built-in store makes finding and purchasing music incredibly easy.
I like to hope that we’ll see a revival of the old iTunes someday. Much like a digital Britney Spears, it could still cast off the half decade of poor decisions and relive the glory days of the early ’00s. Deep down, it’s still the revolutionary program that rocked the charts all those years ago. Perhaps if we can just split it into separate applications to handle various functions, that might solve it for some. I’d imagine that others still prefer a unified app that handles everything for them, so how about a mix? Make one app that plays only music, yet ties into the libraries you’ve set up in iPhoto and a separate video organization application. Route the iOS app store into the Mac App Store program and you might have a winner. Apple, you’ve got my email if you want any suggestions, but I have a feeling that you’re planning something better anyway. Surprise me tomorrow, ok?