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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.

Similarly, if you have lots of iOS apps, iTunes's app-management and -syncing features are sorely lacking and can be glacially slow; iTunes still can't automatically update iOS apps to their latest versions; and while music and video syncing generally work well, app syncing through iTunes can be a frustrating procedure.

iTunes has also gotten a bit more confusing with each version. It's still mostly straightforward for playing music and watching video, but it now handles so many types of media, with so many different views (and options that change depending on the view you're in), that it's easy to get lost in the app and its myriad options.

The root of these issues is, it seems, that while iTunes started as a music player and manager — it's right there in the name, iTunes — over the years it's evolved, mostly out of necessity, into a do-everything, manage-everything behemoth. It's now responsible for managing music, podcasts, audiobooks, movies, TV shows, and iOS ringtones and alerts. It hosts stores for purchasing (and sometimes renting) music, video, apps, and, until recently, ebooks. It includes a streaming-radio service, Internet-radio features, and a podcast directory. It's also responsible for syncing these categories, as well as photos, to your iPhones, iPads, and iPods. (Hey, at least we no longer have to use it to sync content to the Apple TV, too.)

As a "jukebox," as Apple originally called it, iTunes is solid, and if being a media-management app was all iTunes had to do, its reputation would likely be a heck of a lot better that it is. But iTunes is no longer just a jukebox, and many of its issues can be attributed to the fact that Apple has had to cram so many features and purposes into a single app.

Split 'em up

The obvious solution, it would seem, is to break iTunes up, peeling many of its non-music features off into smaller apps dedicated to specific purposes and types of media. Indeed, Apple last year took a step in this direction with the release of the separate iBooks for Mac app, which pulled the iBookstore and your ebooks out of iTunes. And specialization is already the way of the world on iOS, as your iPhone and iPad have dedicated apps for music playback (Music), video watching (Videos), podcast organization and listening (Podcasts), buying and downloading apps (App Store), buying music and video (iTunes Store), and handling iTunes U content (iTunes U).

We can imagine a future where Apple takes a similar approach on OS X. We'd have one app — perhaps still called iTunes — that handles just your audio and video organization and playback. Or, even better, all your video is handled by separate Videos app. These apps would be like standalone versions of iTunes's Library and Playlists sections. There'd also be a dedicated Podcasts app with a podcast directory, where you could subscribe to podcasts and download and listen to episodes.


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