In the age of iCloud, does Apple need to maintain a monstrous iTunes?

We get seven apps on iOS 6 to take care of iTunes, isn't it time Apple broke it apart on the desktop as well?

Breaking up iTunes is Peter Cohen's number one want for OS X 10.9. He's probably not alone on that front, I myself went as far as saying I'd love to see the Podcasts app broken away from iTunes and released as a stand alone as on iOS. On their iOS devices, Apple has made the iTunes experience so much better than on the desktop, and it's been this way for a long time. And, with iCloud at their disposal, Apple could easily strip apart the "bloated, unwieldy mess" that is the current iTunes desktop experience.

Doing it the iOS way

Seven apps. That's how many we have on iOS 6 to take care of the same as Apple has crammed into just one desktop app. Mobile apps are kept separate to music and video purchases, Podcasts away from books. The music and video players still allow you access to their respective stores, but it takes you out to a separate app instead of cramming everything under one roof. That's what iTunes on the desktop feels like. Like Apple started out with an idea, and as each new idea came along they just kept opening the door and squeezing one more thing inside. If iRadio does indeed launch at WWDC or even after this, this too would likely be squeezed into the house of iTunes.

If you don't want iTunes U, or iBooks, you don't have to have it

The beauty of iOS too, is that aside from the two stores and the two player apps, the others are optional downloads. Streamlined. If you don't want iTunes U, or iBooks, you don't have to have it. You don't have to look at it, try and hide it, you just don't download it from the App Store.

A bloated, unwieldy mess

This is the Apps tab in my own copy of iTunes. I don't use it -- as you can possibly tell -- I don't need it, I'd like it to just not be there. Same goes for the Books tab. I can't read my iBooks on my computer anyway, so neither of these things really need to be there.

The iTunes Store is quite overwhelming

The iTunes Store is quite overwhelming. Doing a search for Batman brings up movies, TV seasons, TV episodes, iPad apps, iPhone apps, books, audiobooks, iTunes U content, podcasts and even a music video. Not all iTunes customers have an iOS device, if you wanted a book you'd probably be looking from the iBooks app on your iPhone or iPad anyway, and throwing iTunes U in the same search results as a TV episode? Some customers might be OK with this, this overload of information. But is it really necessary?

And when you're on a specific tab, such as the music, why does iTunes still conduct a global search of all the available content? If you're in the music section of store looking at music, and you conduct a search, chances are high you're only looking for music?

Breaking out

iOS does it right. Podcasts are now separate from music and the respective book, media and app stores are all in their own little corner of the OS. But, while you're likely going to want a music and video player and access to the stores, you don't necessarily want Podcasts, or iBooks, or iTunes U. So you don't have to have them. It's all so simple.

Let the customer tailor their iTunes experience to their own tastes

This could work so well for the desktop, too. Ship a music player, and a content store. Leave iOS apps out of it, these would be much better served with a proper web portal a la Google Play to push to your device than using iTunes. Add separate downloads to the Mac App Store for Podcasts, iTunes U and iBooks so those who don't have an iOS device can still buy books and read them on their Mac like competing products already allow. Let the customer tailor their iTunes experience to their own tastes, and trim all the apps back.

But, what about Windows?

Anything that needs to be available to an iOS user on Windows has to be contained within the one iTunes app which Apple ports to the platform. This is why iTunes is as it is today, and as we've already learned, Apple isn't too keen on developing for Windows 8.

But, at the same time, whether you're a Windows or a Mac user, iTunes is still the same dreadfully overweight entity. Do Windows users use iTunes any differently? They still can't read their iBooks on their PC, and most app management for their iPhone and iPad is still most likely done on the device itself. And, in the age of iCloud, do we really need a desktop management solution for absolutely everything?

So, could iCloud be the answer?

Part of it, yes. Take Google as an example. They manage nothing on the desktop. That's not necessarily the right way to do things, but there's a lot of it that could work out for iTunes. The Google Play web experience provides their customers with music, apps, books, tv shows, magazines; all available for purchase via the web to be pushed to your Android device. The Google Music player is a web client, the only desktop application is for uploading your own music to your cloud locker.

In the age of iCloud, is there really any need for Apple to continue to maintain a monstrous iTunes?

Apple could just as easily implement similar solutions, that would suit Mac and Windows users equally. You have to be connected to the web to use the store, so why does it need to be contained within the iTunes desktop experience? Apple could strip out all of this, and leave us with a vastly toned down media player. In the age of iCloud, is there really any need for Apple to continue to maintain a monstrous iTunes?

The bottom line

iTunes has been around for so long now, it's starting to get really bloated and overweight. On the one hand it's great that everything you need to help manage your iOS device, media content and more besides is accessibly in one place. But that one place isn't necessarily the right place. With iCloud at their disposal, Apple could strip away pretty much all of the overwhelming store, and leave us with a stripped down media playing experience. iOS style apps would be pretty fantastic, but while we have to think about our Windows using friends it's unlikely it would happen. Sending a big chunk of iTunes to the web would be a good place to start, though, and everyone could benefit from that.

Richard Devine

Senior Editor at iMore, part time racing driver, full time British guy

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There are 41 comments. Add yours.

ungibbed says:

Remember the days when iTunes was under three Megabytes? It was simple then. It's turning slowly into Apples version of Internet Explorer! /tin foil hat sarcasm...

necigrad says:

I don't use everything. I use iTunes for music. I don't use it in any way, shape, or form for videos, books, podcasts... And yet, all the iOS apps pisses me off. I want FEWER app. iOS should have a player app and a store app. MAYBE one could argue for a book app as well. When I decide I want to search iTunes I want to search it. Maybe I'm looking for an audio file only, or maybe I'd like to see the video options for the same as well. Buying a book? Maybe I want the text version, or maybe I'll consider the spoken version depending on price.

Your point is valid, however. To combine apps you need to provide customization. I'll let someone else figure that part out though. What I know for sure is that I find all the iOS apps to be a pain in the ass cluttering up my phone.

Irelandjnr says:

They could, at the very least, get rid of the app called iTunes on iOS and put all the various stores into the various apps, as they do with Podcasts and iBooks. So you'd have those two "stores", and you'd have the App Store, Video Store, Music Store, etc., all accessible from a store button within each app.

Dev from tipb says:

A monolithic or broken up iTunes is completely orthogonal to iCloud.

johncblandii says:

I hate seeing iTunes alerts pop-up and not being able to view/install iOS apps on the web. It isn't needed in these days of the web.

Jeff Kibuule says:

It's funny how iTunes is basically been held back by the atrocious Windows client, where we know Apple would just love to say "Ok, ditch the Windows client! We don't care!" and split up the Mac apps like we know they should.

They COULD pull a Google, gut iTunes into pure music management and put everything else into, but that assumes they are good at making web services (they are not).

Pollster says:

The internet is still not a given. Until it is, I still need storage and backup onto disk.

nolhayes says:

and people trust the internet too much!

Richard Devine says:

Pretty sure all through this I've said they could provide a stripped down music player, sending the store stuff to the web.

Since you NEED the Internet to access the store anyway, where's the problem stripping that out and having it available via a web portal?

Derrick4Real says:

Why would a company that wants to sell music, want to split the sales platform from the playback platform? If it doesn't benefit Apple there's no point in a business doing it unless it's just random benevolence which isn't gonna ever happen. If you're on your desktop playing music they don't want to make the potential consumer have to leave the app to go give them money. They want to make it easy, streamlined. So from a business standpoint i don't see splitting them as making any business sense. If the problem is bloat and sluggishness a better solution is simply fix the bloat and sluggishness. Splitting them simply makes many sluggish apps rather than one.

SockRolid says:

Re: "But, at the same time, whether you're a Windows or a Mac user, iTunes is still the same dreadfully overweight entity."

Apple should leave iTunes as-is on Windows. Gigantic, bloated, plenty of drill-down. Just like the Windows experience itself. It's a perfect fit. And no, Apple shouldn't bother with a Metro interface for iTunes on Windows. Windows 8.1 will have a no-Metro option, which will probably be very popular among Windows users.

Having said that, Apple should split up iTunes into smaller apps on OS X. No, it's not iOS-ification of OS X. But it would drastically reduce the complexity of many iTunes tasks. And, as Richard says, you don't need to download iBooks if you only read e-books on your iPad.

Oh, and of course, the vastly better iTunes experience on OS X would be yet another reason to switch to Mac from Wintel.

Re: "... and most app management for their iPhone and iPad is still most likely done on the device itself."

The PC Free feature introduced in iOS 5 is much more important than people think.

Obsidian71 says:

I don't feel like iTunes is bloated at all. In fact most of the people making this claim fail to back it up with any meaningful data. What exactly "is" bloated software? When I run iTunes and check Activity Monitor it hovers around a nice comfortable level in processor and RAM requirements. In my experience iTunes runs quite well for an application that does so much. Thus I have little desire to break it up into pieces.

If I do a search for Batman I "do" want to get all relevant results regardless of whether i'm just looking for a movie or a song. I want to know what other content is out to be discovered via searching. If you move this other content to other apps you are going to erect a wall to this discovery process.

Multiple apps do not make sense. I've had to explain to multiple iOS users that the orange app is for playing music and that they should be looking for the purple app to buy music/video/movies. It's not that intuitive to have multiple apps IMO.

iTunes is a fine program that just needs a bit more polish in the areas of actually managing music (i.e tagging, merging and cleaning things up).

Irelandjnr says:

iTunes used to be under 3MB, I don't know what it is now, but it's certainly not light weight app. I do kind of still like iTunes, though.

SockRolid says:

Not bloated in terms of disk footprint. Bloated in terms of too many features all jammed into one single app. Think of the converged toaster-fridge that Tim Cook said consumers wouldn't like.

And think of it this way. Let's imagine that iTunes didn't exist, and that Apple wanted to release a music playing app, a video playing app, a music and video store, an iOS app store, a CD burning app, a streaming radio app, a podcast playing app, an e-book reader / an e-book store app, an iTunes U education-oriented app, and an iOS device backup and synchronization app. All at once, and not necessarily in one single gigantic app. Do you think Apple would lump all of those features into one gigantic app? Extremely unlikely.

iTunes gradually accumulated features over the last decade+. Because the name "iTunes" was so powerful in terms of branding and mindshare. But recently, with iOS' separate apps, the OS X iTunes is looking like a relic of the 20th century. There's a reason why Apple created a separate OS X App Store.

Re: "I've had to explain to multiple iOS users that the orange app is for playing music..."

And if Apple hadn't split up iTunes on iOS, you'd still be explaining iTunes to them.

necigrad says:

OK, let's say iTunes didn't exist. Do you want to download and install 10 different apps or programs and then have to open the right one to do the right thing? What about when they can be successfully combined into one? With iTunes I can do pretty much everything on the PC that takes me several apps to do on the iPhone. People are talking about one program being bloated. Having all those programs is bloat! I'm not at all saying that it's being done the best way possible, but one app can be far easier then 10, or even 5.

impaler says:

Breaking up iTunes is the logical answer. Even the name is completely outdated. It's so much more than music. Break it out, guys!

brmperc says:

I use iTunes all of the time. I haven't upgraded to the "new" version, because of all of the bugs. But I enjoy using it. iCloud bricked my iPhone twice in one week, so I no longer use it. I still want all of my music on my Mac, and then just plug in my iPhone and transfer between the two.
I think cloud services in general have a long way to go.
I prefer having iTunes all in one. You can get rid of listings in the sidebar etc, so if you don't use books you don't have to see it.

Irelandjnr says:

The new version isn't buggy for me, and you no longer use iCloud. Give both another try. Trust me.

Denton Heinrichs says:

With the new iTunes I have a much better Experience even on my Low-end old laptop however it could be better I would like to see it broken out that's part of the reason I like iOS over Android as mobile Continues to grow the more Unified Google play on android will become slow and unusable the way iTunes was and still is for some

nolhayes says:

The answer to your question is yes because some of us like myself have iTunes libraries that are too large for any reasonable cloud service and also we are reluctant to give all our information to the cloud.
I currently utilize the phone book, reminders and calendar for sync between iPhone and iPad. I don't do the full backup though which includes text messages, emails etc.

Richard Devine says:

Pretty sure I said they could give us a toned down music player. What's that got to do with having your music in the cloud?

iCloud however could easily handle the store. You go to a web portal like Google Play, buy stuff, and iCloud sends it to your chosen device, which could be anything you're signed into iCloud on. You need the Internet to be able to access the store, so where's the harm in pulling all that stuff out of the main app?

samdchuck says:

The harm? Convenience, ease of use, … I tell my mom that everything she needs for her music is in iTunes. Splitting things up to iTunes and a website would already overly complicate stuff for her. Besides, isn't the store just a web portal you access in the 'iTunes browser'?

I never had an issue with iTunes in terms of capabilities and extent of functionality. The issue I have with iTunes is that it's a piece bloated poor software that doesn't perform all that well.

Irelandjnr says:

That's the sad truth. People who use a computer 10 hours a day forget about regular people.

wbeem says:

Of course, there's a need. Do you want to sync media to your iOS devices over your broadband connection? I keep thousands of songs on my iPhone because I want my music with me anywhere I go. In the office, the car, on a plane, at the beach - places where bandwidth may be limited or completely unavailable. iCloud is nice, but it's not a replacement for personal storage of a large media library.

nolhayes says:

I feel like Newstand and iBooks are the same and should be combined immediately.
ITunes is great for storing and organizing media, pictures, video, even books/pdfs (which I just started doing).

czechoslovakian7 says:

I don't think they're the same at all, Newsstand magazines are apps downloaded from the App Store, while books are ePub files downloaded from the iBookstore...

Derrick4Real says:

google's web client, which i have full, is a crap music player.

Icloud, i barely use and only for contacts. I don't buy music from apple. I already had a massive collection of cds i ripped long ago and i'm sure many simply can't rely solely on icloud because they aren't willing to pay to store music they already own.

my big issue with itunes is simply that it's slow. If it did all the stuff it tries to do snappily it be fine. But it takes ages for windows to load, for a song you click on to even register that you clicked on it. It's also illogical. with syncing why does it always want to remove stuff from my iphone. just copy pictures. don't delete stuff unless i ask. How come i can't sync or simply copy multiple photo folders. It's lame that even this far into itunes i can't simply point to a folder and it automatically monitors it, updating when new mp3s are added. I use itunes 99% time as simply a desktop music player as well. But i don't have big issue with the other things it does i simply think it does those things poorly and illogically in many places.

darrenlowjq says:

Apple has been going on about PC free for so long that I don't even know why they still have iTunes serving iOS devices (that they serve old school non-iOS iPods is excusable I guess).

I'd much rather the bloated mess that is iTunes just went away all together and I could just plug in USB and do drag and drop into a file system. I would go PC free if I could, but I still have to use iTunes for stuff like universal video player apps, since I can't download stuff directly from the internet. I can get behind a bare bones client for keeping content across multiple clients in sync, but nothing more than that.

ernbrdn says:

This conversation is tired. Most of the conversations and posts are tired these days, wish this, want that, why don't we just wish the whole darn mess away. Why don't we just post. I HATE APPLE I WISH THEY WOULD START COMPLETELY OVER FROM SCRATCH. Because then what would we post about? Oh yeah how good it was in the good old days. Sure there are improvements that need to be made, there are features that could really be added. But seriously if you don't like it don't use it. Or better yet write a 3000 word blog post on it. /rant over.

ScottyTheMenace says:

If Apple ever forces me to use icloud for any reason, that will be the end of my Apple experience after nearly 30 years.

csd says:

Funny how users are so different. I feel exactly the opposite. I hate having to use 7 different apps in iOS for what I can do with one on my PC. I keep wishing Apple would combine those 7 icons into one to make a central hub for everything.

Oh well, to each their own.

Derrick4Real says:

good point. You know i think most of the writers and many of the users here are much more in the power user category. They are the mobile phone enthusiasts. This is there big thing. Where as for the rest of the public the phone is a tool. It makes many things more convenient. But they use it differently. My mother has an ipad and no clue how to use multitasking, doesn't use the calender, music player or most other stuff. It's like when android haters freak about android fragmentation, as if the average person goes into an AT&T store and says, "So what about fragmentation?" The average person is simplistic. They don't know about fragmentation. They bought one phone a year ago and don't know what other android phones use cause they don't follow phone news. In the same vain they aren't that bothered by the fact that itunes does 800 things. The like it. they know where to go to do all their ipod/iphone stuff. They don't want multiple apps to interface with their phone. It only confuses them. They aren't thinking all these techie power user things. And many of the posts i feel forget that these phones are made not for power users but rather for regular people.

Spartacuswines says:

Does anyone else have challenges with the search in the App Store? As for iCloud, it's a dog in Apple clothing.

johnnygoodface says:

I use it to steam all my .mp4 to my Apple TV. Don't touch my iTunes!

ggore says:

I don't get it. I just don't get that iTunes is this huge unwieldy mess. At all. It manages all my media just fine. I can find anything quite easily by typing into the search bar. I plug my iPhone or iPad into my iMac and walk away, everything new is placed onto the devices, everything is backed up, synced, installed, whatever, and I just come back, grab the device & go. I don't have to go into 6 different applications, set them up, and sync them separately like some people on here evidently want to make people do in order to achieve the very same result. I just don't get it.

Rainman76 says:

I have to disagree. I don't find iTunes bloated. I like to have all my media sources (Music, Movies, Podcasts, etc.) under one roof. At any given time, I may switch to one of those media sources. I liked it better in when Music, Videos and Podcasts were under one single iPod app on my iPhone. It was centralized and easier for me to find instead of having to go to a different app.

As for iCloud, I am still not sold on all of it. Maybe I am still hanging onto old thinking, but I like all my media to be resident to the device. Battery life suffers with media streaming and I am not willing to sacrifice that.

moroboshi says:

iTunes has always been spectacularly awful on Windows, and on Windows 8 (in desktop mode of course), it's so bad as to essentially broken. It's able to completely cripple my PC whenever it likes, be it uploading to iCloud, downloading podcasts, or downloading apps. When I say cripple, I mean reduce the mouse pointer to updating at around 2 frames per second, and it takes a good minute to bring up task manager so I can exterminate iTunes.

You might think I'm running this on some ancient, out of date PC, well it's a Core i7 at 3.4ghz with 16gb of system RAM and Win 8 installed on an SSD. So it's not exactly slow. The problem is iTunes.

That said, playing music through a web interface, as with Amazon MP3, is also pretty awful. I think we just need a really light music player, something more like Spotify.

Allyson Kazmucha says:

I would absolutely love if Apple did this. iTunes should strictly be music and focus on maintaining backups and information about devices. iTunes has become a mess in that regard. I use iCloud mainly for backups but every once in a while, I still feel the need to plug in and create a manual backup (I distrust the cloud still). Half the time those backups fail or don't finish. Other times, they bork in some way or another or remove things I don't want them to.

iTunes has lot its focus and I think it's important for Apple to find that focus again.

Dionte says:

If they were broken up in Osx I'd probably use them more, like on the iPad and iPhone.

Adriaen Stone says:

Where everything comes together.
Crowded? Bustling? A choking point?
But iTunes (if you know it's features, and how to use it) puts everything at your beck and call in one spot. I like it.
But it's not perfect, true...
I'd love to be ABLE to shut some features off, as I don't use them... but for organizing your iPad AND your nano touch AND an old iPod mini, it is perfect, and frankly brilliant. Making it 5 or 6 separate applications would make for 5 or 6 streamlined programs, but that isn't really the point. That's the iOS experience... and what iOS devices are for.
Computers should probably remain computers, and iOS devices are what they are. Evolution toward ONE platform may create a seamless experience from iPad to iPhone to MacBook, but these are not the same devices, and serve different needs.
Sometimes you need the SUV, and sometimes you'd prefer the roadster... iTunes is the garage that keeps them both tuned (or is that Ituned?).