Can Apple Do Us A Favor And Kill iTunes?

iTunes launched before the iPad, iPhone and iPod. The Microsoft Zune wasn't even a gleam in Steve Ballmer's eye. It was January 9th, 2001 and the music industry was under siege by Napster

Apple needs to build a new platform before it invests $1 billion into TV and movie content.
Photo: Getty Images
Apple needs to build a new platform before it invests $1 billion into TV and movie content.

That wasn't the very beginning of iTunes though. It started with SoundJam MP, a digital music player released in 1998. Apple acquired the product and its team to build iTunes 2 years later.

There was no store when it first launched. You couldn’t even rip or burn a CD. Now you can buy music, TV, movies, apps, books and more. All on iTunes. This sounds good, but the result is an unfocused product and a confusing user experience.

When it first launched, the iTunes icon featured a CD with musical notes in front of it. When CDs became obsolete, Apple dropped the CD in favor of a circle with a musical note. This is strange because the software already covered more than music at that point. They kept the name iTunes too.

Words matter. Putting aside the cheesy and dated prefix “i” that stains the Apple product line, “tunes” makes no sense. Just as making calls is no longer the primary function of an iPhone, the name iTunes is misleading.

While that's confusing, there's a bigger problem. iTunes is impossible to navigate. The organization of its content is unintuitive. I tried watching Planet of the Apps and I couldn't. That's not a snide remark about the quality of the content. It was difficult to find the show.

Planet of the Apps is a TV show that’s featured on Apple Music. Apple Music is Apple’s streaming service that’s designed to compete with Spotify. If you search the TV Shows section for Planet of The Apps, you can only watch the pilot episode as a preview. You have to go to the Music section of iTunes to watch the season. That makes no sense.

You can’t duct tape a store onto a media library and expect it to work. Stacking a streaming music service on top of that mess only makes things worse. It’s not the first time Apple has done this. Remember iTunes Ping?

This is a real problem. In the industry, it's called technical debt. Software developers cut corners to save time when they iterate. These shortcuts add up. Dynamic teams set aside time to “pay off” this technical debt. Others do not. When technical debt gets so bad that it surfaces in the user experience, you have a problem.

iTunes hit this inflection point years ago. Apple has done nothing and the user experience has careened downhill ever since. Apple needs to start fresh. They need a data model that supports the problem iTunes solves today. It’s different than the problem SoundJam MP solved when they acquired it.

There’s a strong argument to separate iTunes out into a suite of apps. Dividing it up by content type would make it easier to use. Streaming podcasts and renting movies are different activities. They deserve software that reflects this.

It’s hard to imagine Apple doing anything about iTunes at this point. They're in too deep. They can’t turn back now. If they break iTunes up into separate applications, they have to support them all. It might cost less than maintaining iTunes in its current state, but it presents a challenge.

Apple's inaction suggests that there’s no benefit to improving the iTunes experience. This is surprising since their competition continues to grow. In movies alone, Apple’s dominance has slipped by 20%-35% since 2012. Now that they’re investing $1 billion in TV and movies, Apple should address this problem.

Unlike Amazon and Netflix, Apple has the advantage of owning the operating system. They are the first point of contact for many of their competitor’s users when they go online, or turn on their TV. They should leverage this advantage by serving up content in a compelling way.

Apple, Amazon and Netflix are the new ABC, NBC and CBS. Netflix has a $7 billion budget. Amazon has $4.5 billion. HBO is chilling at $2 billion, but they’ve always done their own thing and always will. Apple has plenty of capital to throw at this problem with a war chest of $261.5 billion. Why not start with modern software for content delivery?

Apple is more focused on iOS and AppleTV, but iTunes is still a major part of the Apple ecosystem. Until they have a hit movie or series, they can improve their user experience on every platform. They need to kill iTunes and create an app that wasn’t designed in the Napster era.

Theo Miller, Contributor

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