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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.

Apple could resurrect iSync, so to speak, by creating a standalone app that handles all your sync settings. Rather than the simple interface of iSync, it would resemble the sync-settings interface within iTunes — or a cleaned-up version of those screens — but the purpose would be the same: a centralized place to manage wireless and wired syncing.

Which leads me to a second big obstacle to disassembling iTunes: Windows. What many Mac users forget is that a huge proportion — quite possibly a majority — of iTunes users aren't on the Mac. They're using Windows. And Apple likes to keep the Mac and Windows versions of iTunes largely in sync, so to speak. Which means that any changes to the Mac version also have to be made to the Windows app. (Some people attribute iTunes's performance and UI issues, fairly or not, to this cross-platform development.)

This also means that if Apple breaks iTunes down into smaller apps on the Mac, the company must do the same for Windows...or maintain two completely separate user experiences. Neither of those options is especially appealing. The former would mean that instead of maintaining a single Windows app, Apple would have to create and support five, or six, or seven — and Windows users would have to download and install them all. The latter would mean that people would have to learn one or the other media-management systems, depending on which platform they use on the desktop; and if, like many people, you use both platforms, you'd need to learn both approaches.

Time for change

For years, people have speculated that iTunes for Windows has been holding back iTunes for Mac, and it wouldn't surprise me if that's (partially) true. But whatever the reason, I think iTunes has finally reached the proverbial critical mass: Apple needs to improve it significantly, for both performance and usability reasons. I suspect that a revamp of iTunes is one of the "big things" Apple has promised for later this year.

The question is just how much of a revamp the company has in the works. The proportion of people who can sync wirelessly, and download their media wirelessly (thanks to iTunes Match), is increasing every day. And as more and more syncing happens over the air, there's less need for desktop software to manage syncing. That would make it easier to break iTunes into smaller, more-focused apps, and it would make Yet Another Windows App less necessary. But we're not there yet in terms of wireless coverage and costs. Whichever route Apple takes, here's hoping that, come the fall, we'll see the debut of a better media-management platform for the desktop — but one that preserves much of what's still great about iTunes.


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