There are rumors that Apple will launch new utilities to handle managing specific capabilities currently handled by iTunes. In and of itself, this isn’t a huge announcement — if you aren’t pretty plugged into the Apple ecosystem, you may not care that the company is launching new utilities to handle Books, Music, and Podcast apps.
But this news also implies that Apple might be gearing up to kill iTunes, albeit not immediately. And that’s some of the best news I can imagine. iTunes is, in a word, bad. It didn’t start off that way. I remember not only downloading iTunes, but actually using it to purchase media. Voluntarily!
I am now fairly confident based on evidence I don’t wish to make public at this point that Apple is planning new (likely UIKit) Music, Podcasts, perhaps even Books, apps for macOS, to join the new TV app. I expect the four to be the next wave of Marzipan apps. Grain of salt, etc
— Steve Troughton-Smith (@stroughtonsmith) April 5, 2019
Memorably characterized as a “toxic hellstew of unreliability” by developer Marco Arment back in 2015, iTunes doesn’t seem to have improved much in the intervening years. I’m still occasionally forced to use it for iDevice management and the app remains as stubbornly consumer hostile as ever. I had to spend time with it this past weekend, helping my fiancée synchronize her voice memos with a local PC.
While this isn’t objectively terribly difficult, the fact that it’s hard to tell when hitting “Sync” on an iPhone could actually end up erasing it (if, for example, there’s music on your device but no music in your iTunes library) has made me leery of touching the software since I accidentally wiped a device by accident years ago. Even once you successfully import files, Apple creates file names for voice memos that are nothing but a string of numbers by default. Proper names for voice memos (as entered on your device or in iTunes) aren’t translated to their actual file names when you sync with iTunes, despite there being no reason not to name files what people actually call them. Then again, Apple has always given the impression it would prefer file management systems not exist in the first place, at least as far as iTunes is concerned. Why would you ever need to access a file with anything but iTunes?
Now for the bad news. Despite the fact that Apple might be moving to break iTunes functionality into other apps, the app itself is expected to stick around as the preferred legacy method for connecting to old devices. Maintaining backward compatibility is important and we understand why Apple might need to retain the old software for a while to provide it — but at the very least, it would be nice if some functionality started migrating back out of iTunes.
That might sound strange, because apps almost never get simpler, and yes, running multiple applications where one used to the trick isn’t as efficient. But in this case, one of iTunes’ problems is that it’s stuffed with functionality it was never originally designed to have. The app has never been particularly good at serving as a simultaneous media player, synchronization tool, content organization library, and storefront because it was originally designed as a music player. Everything else — and 16 years later, there’s a lot of “everything else” — has been crammed into it over time.
If Apple can’t drag the thing out back and shoot it for a few more years, maybe it could at least take some of the extra weight off its back and turn it out to pasture to provide legacy support to folks with older devices. It’s a lot easier to own an iPhone and dodge iTunes than it used to be, but it’d be nice to have an official Apple app to go with the official Apple phone that actually officially ran well, was relatively easy to navigate, and easy to use.
What do we call that? Oh yeah. “Just works.”