- The Tech Night Owl — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com -

About Terminating iTunes with Extreme Prejudice

So iTunes hasn’t exactly received the love in recent years. Some say it’s bloated, although technically that’s not quite true. Others are just overwhelmed by all the features that are regularly added, without taking steps to simplify the interface so the power of the app is at your beck and call.

Others fret over stability and reliability issues, and reports that music databases may be borked with iTunes 12.2 and Apple Music only make matters worse.

Now my history with iTunes goes back to its origins as SoundJam and later SoundJam MP Plus from a now-defunct publisher known as Casady & Greene. In 2000, Apple made the smart decision to buy the product, and bring along its developers, including Jeffrey Robbin, now a VP of consumer applications at Apple.

In addition to being lead developer of iTunes, Robbin is credited with helping to create the software for the iPod, and was, several years ago, reported to be a part of the development project to create an Apple TV set. Of course, that project appears to have been discontinued, but it’s notable how Apple has put Robbin in charge of significant projects. I’ve known him for years, and he’s a real talented guy and deserving of his success.

But something’s gone real wrong with iTunes, and it’s in need of serious repair, or Apple needs to start over and rethink the app. Before I go on, don’t assume that starting over is anything new with Apple. Ask users of Final Cut Pro, for example. Although the new and far cheaper version, Final Cut Pro X, got a whole lot better over time, some loyal users chafed at the changed interface and lost features, and went elsewhere. Still, Apple is not shy about changing thingsy, and it’s high time that iTunes go under the knife.

The latest version, 12.2, was released to introduce Apple Music. It’s otherwise substantially the same as the previous cluttered version, only it’s more cluttered. It only adds new layers of inconsistency and unpredictable behavior to an app that was already breaking at the seams.

A major change of version 12 was the use of a context-sensitive navigation bar that totally confounds muscle memory. So when you move from Music to Podcasts or to Movies, the options and the width of the nav bar labels changes. This may make sense from a logical point of view, but it means that you have to stop and think before you click. Apple Music merely adds extra labels for the Music section. There’s no Apple Music icon, since the feature integrates with existing music features.

All right, that’s part of it, and I suppose most of you have gotten used to the poor implementation of this feature. There’s more, however. With Apple Music, context menus usually don’t work, and the ellipses that are usually placed next to the titles of albums and tracks don’t deliver consistent context results. Select an album in the For You page and the ellipse will only allow you to share the album. When you click on the album to open its playlist, you have additional options to share an album, but none to tell Apple Music you want that thing off your list post haste.

To make matters worse — and more confusing — if you tap and hold an album title in the For You list in Music for iOS 8.4 (and now the 9.0 beta), you not only have extra choices, but one entitled “I Don’t Like This Suggestion.” Why isn’t that readily available with iTunes? Tell us Mr. Robbin!

I realize that iTunes is very much a browser, meaning that the content you access can be instantly altered. I suppose that adding more context options is something that could be done on-the-fly without updating the app, and maybe it’ll be fleshed out over time as the service is refined.

For now, however, the interface and the layout are poorly designed, as if it was perhaps thrown together to meet a deadline with the hope it’ll be fixed later. Kirk McElhearn, Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” and my go-to expert on such matters, suggests that Apple’s marketing people are being given too much power to drive the look and feel of iTunes. It’s more about turning visitors into paying customers, but it doesn’t even succeed on that level. If they hope you’ll buy a track you’re enjoying in Apple Music, the process is definitely not easy.

Or perhaps Apple really does believe that we are all destined to rent music, and this is only guiding you into that direction. Remember, when you rent music, you own nothing other than the tracks you’ve previously purchased. Anything you’ve downloaded from Apple Music stops playing when you stop paying. If you decide one month you have other priorities, and you’ve spent days fine-tuning your custom playlists, will Apple allow you to suspend your membership for a while, and allow you to pick up where you left off a month or two later? Just asking.

The reason I suggest Apple should kill iTunes and try over is that the app has moved in the wrong direction. It doesn’t mean it should be split up into separate media apps, as is done in iOS. Having a single place to get play and acquire content on a Mac or PC is probably the more efficient idea. But that shouldn’t keep Apple from starting over and devising a better way.

It’s not that there is better competition out there, particularly if you are accustomed to the Apple ecosystem. But how long will Apple allow this messy situation to continue before taking action?