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iTunes: What's great, what's not, and how Apple might fix it

Dan Frakes | June 13, 2014
Among they smorgasbord of new software and features Apple announced at last week's WWDC keynote, there were a few notable absences. Improvements to Maps, for example. Or a new version of iTunes.

You can import and export playlists, and Up Next (like its predecessors, iTunes DJ and Party Shuffle) makes it easy to queue up tracks for on-the-fly queueing. You get a nifty miniature player for those times you don't need to see the full interface, and unlike many of Apple's recent apps — and many third-party media players — iTunes is heavily scriptable, meaning there's a good chance that even if a particular feature isn't available within the app itself, you can make it do what you want. And though we all have beefs with the details, iTunes makes it easy to share your library with your other devices and with your family. Heck, you can even still print jewel-case inserts (remember those?).

And consider what iTunes has to handle these days. My iTunes-hosted media collection clocks in at over 20,000 music tracks, around 300 movies, over 1000 TV shows, a couple thousand podcasts, thousands of iOS apps, and a smattering of books, audiobooks, iTunes U sessions, and more. Though I have significant complaints about performance when browsing that content (more on that below), iTunes handles it, and playback itself is flawless. That's not to say no one has problems with huge libraries — I know some do. But the app handles what the vast majority of users throw at it.

There are smaller, faster apps out there that excel at particular tasks, but whenever I try one, I'm frustrated by what it can't do compared to iTunes. To paraphrase another famous saying, iTunes is the worst media app, except for all the others.

What I'm saying — and I know this will be controversial in some quarters — is that when it comes to managing and playing your media, few apps can hold a candle to iTunes. Many of us, at one point or another, loved it.


And yet we all have our iTunes issues. Perhaps its because hundreds of millions of people use iTunes, but few other apps inspire, and are subjected to, the level of vitriol we see around the Web.

Some of this criticism can be brushed aside as variations of "It doesn't do things exactly how I want" — complaints such as "Why can't I just drag and drop tracks onto my iPod?" have been around for over a decade. But many of the complaints leveled at iTunes are valid. For example, over the years, it's become bigger and slower. Simple actions like switching between music and movie lists can take seconds rather than milliseconds, and it's not uncommon to have to wait five, ten, or twenty seconds to search a large library for a particular track. These issues seem to scale in proportion to the size of your media collection.


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