ITunes is broken. Apple, do something.
In the last week a new kerfuffle broke out when someone posted a screed about how Apple Music deleted his music library. This allowed a lot of people to haul out the iTunes is a dumpster file and apple sucks blog posts they’ve been writing for years, while over voices looked deeper into the issue and tried to explain how it might have happened. And after some deep digging, Serenity Caldwell on iMore seems to have nailed it to a bug introduced in iTunes 12.3.3 that Apple hasn’t either confirmed or fixed.
iTunes is a dumpster fire. There’s no way to gloss this over or rationalize this into something that’s not so bad. ITunes is a dumpster fire.
The core of the problem is not just that iTunes is a huge, monolithic hunk of legacy code that goes back to the days when I worked at the company, although that’s a big issue — it’s way beyond it’s shelf date for needing a complete from the foundation rewrite.
But Apple keeps making it do more things. And when they added Apple music on top of Apple Match on top of iTunes music buying on top of syncing music to your iPod or iPhone on top of…
And lets not forget they’ve wedged Movies and Television and Podcasts and backing up your iPhone and managing your iPhone apps (does anyone still do this?) and… and… and…
There are at least six or seven individual apps all buried inside the guts of iTunes whimpering to get out. It is a perfect example of how not to write an application, and if someone were to release an app like this today, we’d laugh at it and it’d die of shame.
How did Apple allow itself to get to this travesty we call iTunes? The way most legacy code dumpster fires happen: one feature at a time. And unfortunately, when Apple decided to pull out the crowbar and wedge Apple Music into the application as well, it broke iTunes. Because the goals and actions of a personal library and the goals and actions of a streaming service fundamentally conflict and some poor software architect had to make decisions on which set of actions take precedent, and that’s how we end up with tech publications writing long, complicated explainers on how to use the app so you don’t screw yourself over just trying to accomplish what should be a straightforward task.
And frankly, Apple, when people are writing these how-tos on your app on how to not end up burning in the dumpster fire, it’s time to recognize the disaster and fix it. The IOS model is a LOT cleaner and a lot more intuitive that this mess, with the Music App and the Podcasts App and the iTunes Store App and the iBooks app. It’s time for the Mac side to follow this lead. If you think about it they’ve actually started down this path in a quiet way with the iBooks app.
Now, that said, a bit of support for Apple: if you take a step back and think about the challenge relaxing iTunes implies: it’s not just a huge, complex beast of an App with code going back 15+ years, it’s a monolithic code base that has to support versions on both Windows (going back to XP, I believe) and Mac (going back to Mountain Lion) that lives on tens of millions of computers. Far from an overnight hackathon.
But the upcoming release of Mac OS would be a great time to at least admit the problem and make a start on fixing it, if they haven’t been quietly working on it in the background for a while. If this were my problem to fix, here’s how I’d split it out, at least at a first take:
* Split the Apple Music stream service into its own App.
* Split Podcasts into its own app.
* Take the parts of iTunes that manage app downloads and updating and device backups and make them into their own app; make backups and updates a background process that happens automatically unless turned off. Sort of like current Wi-Fi sync, but something that works reliably.
* Merge IOS App purchasing for all devices (including TV) into the App Store
* Create an iTunes music app for music, for purchase, play, and device management. It has to play well with the iPhone/device management app above, but they’re smart people (but you start to see the complex interconnects that lead to thinking iTunes as a single App makes sense)
* Using that iBooks app as a model, do the same for video: movies and TV, plus their store. Except the iBooks app is very boring and pedestrian, not exactly a design wow. But that can be (and should be) fixed.
Right there we have six apps, and I haven’t mentioned iTunes U, ringtones, internet radio or audiobooks. That’s a lot of complexity and fighting requirements for one hunk of code, folks.
There’s not enough lipstick for this pig. Apple, time to fix this hot mess, or at least do something more than send Eddy Cue onto the Talk Show to say *hey, it’s complicated and actually, it’s working pretty well, mostly, sort of, most of the time” and trying not to sound embarrassed when he says it. Eddy, if the controversy of the last week or so proves anything to Apple, it’s that it’s not true.
ITunes is what happens when you spend too much time building new stuff and adding features and ignore the technical debt of your legacy code base. At some point, it catches on fire and bad things happen. ITunes is at that point.
ITunes is broken and it’s time to do something about it.
My disappointment in the Apple TV
When the newest Apple TV came out I had great hopes, and I was actually thinking of buying a second one as a gaming toy for my desk. The reality is that after looking at what they shipped, listening to the discussions on it of a number of game devs like Brianna Wu, and seeing the games that showed up on the device and playing with the one I upgraded my home theater with, my desk now has a PS4 on it and I find myself using this new Apple TV much more than the old one, and almost never for gaming. Thomas Hawk sums it up pretty well. Josh Centers at Tidbits also has a good take with tvOS at 6 Months: Where Are the Apps?.
That said, I think the core of a really good device and system is there and I’m looking forward to seeing it mature. I think the key issue with the Apple TV is what’s not there, and what that did to Apple’s release strategy for the device: it was aa well known rumor that Apple was working to acquire rights to media services and the networks like CSB and Fox. Unfortunately, the services effectively refused to play ball, and negotiations dragged on and the old Apple TV got older and older and stayed un-upgraded, and…
And I think ultimately Tim Cook had to make a call that the stream service, which would have pretty clearly been the primary feature of the new Apple TV, wasn’t going to happen, and so it got pulled until some later date, and Apple then had to figure out how to put together the Apple TV so they could release an upgrade until time came when the streaming service might happen.
And that’s how the current Apple TV came to life: as kind of a hodgepodge of updates to the older stuff, the long-awaited addition of an App Store, but apps simply hasn’t been a feature that turns that from a fairly nice set-top box into a killer device of the living room.
I do think it sets the foundation for an interesting future, but not one Apple is able to make happen now and I’m not sure when it’ll happen. So for right now, I have to say in my life, this Apple TV is a nice modest upgrade from the older models, but still kind of a trivia answer in my collection of devices and toys in my digital life. The initial software release seems rather jumbled and incomplete (no web access to the App Store? Really? How do you promote anything there?) but can be mostly explained by we have to pull our key feature, how do we pull the rest together into a product and get it out the door — I think Apple made a good thing out of situation where they reached for the moon and the moon slapped the hand away. For now. But Apple is patient, and I expect when the time is right, the Apple TV, or some future generation, will turn into what their vision of what it could be is.
The thought of a mad scramble to ship product with the main tentpole feature burned to the ground excuses a lot of the rough spots on the TV, but doesn’t excuse the remote. The Apple TV remote, which from the introductory keynote the Apple team obviously loved, is a usability disaster. They’ve improved some off the worst of it with software updates, but still. To me, it is the biggest example of we so fell in love with the design that we forget people have to use the stupid thing and not just stare at it all day like we do since the blue round Apple mouse, remember that?
Fortunately these kind of disasters are fairly rare in Apple’s history — the third I can think of would be the Apple Cube — but have to serve as a good reminder to Apple that design is a key aspect of their product success, but can’t overtake usability and day to day operations; and unfortunately, that got lost somewhere along the way with that remote.