The problem with iTunes and Windows 8

According to the chief financial officer of Windows -- what, your company doesn't have a product-level CFO? -- Microsoft has laid out the welcome mat for iTunes for Windows 8, but Apple has yet to come a knocking. Why ever could that be?

I was asked recently on Twitter why the Mac App Store wasn't bundled into the desktop iTunes app the way the iOS App Store is, and so many other things are. I don't know the official rationale, but my immediate instinct was -- because it's the Mac App Store, and that means it doesn't have to be ported to Windows. And if it doesn't have to get ported to Windows, it doesn't have to go into iTunes.

After all, iTunes is the only major piece of software Apple currently ports to Windows. Safari for Windows, after a brief, uneventful life, has gone missing in action, and QuickTime and the various iCloud and iOS management utilities are just that -- utilities. iLife doesn't get ported. Pro tools don't get ported. Just iTunes.

Steve Jobs once called iTunes for Windows a glass of water in hell. I've joked it was revenge for Office on Mac. Really it was a business necessity in the pre-post-PC world. iPods -- and eventually iPhones and iPads -- needed iTunes on the desktop to purchase, manage, and sync media and apps, the vast majority of computers ran Windows, and so iTunes had to run on Windows.

iTunes desktop isn't so easily reinvented. So it's being obsoleted.

And that screwed it over for everyone. Apple, in their infinitely looped wisdom, decided it would be easier for them to port, and easier for us to use, a single, monolithic iTunes app than anything more specific or distributed, a single jack-of-all-trades app, wrapped up for easy transplant, rather than several masters of one carefully cut apart and crafted. And as iOS grew, and new content types like apps and iBooks, and new use cases, like Wi-Fi sync grew, iTunes on both Mac and Windows grew (and grew).

Absent the need to port to Windows, we get the light, purpose-built Mac App Store. On iOS get separate iTunes Store, Music and Video apps, we get a separate App Store, and we get separate iBooks, Podcasts, and iTunes U apps. We get many little shots of water that aren't anywhere nearly as hellish. iTunes desktop isn't so easily reinvented. So it's being obsoleted.

In a post-PC world, a lot of the jobs formerly required of iTunes on the desktop have been pushed up into the iCloud. You can pretty much setup, manage, fill, and sync a new iOS device, out of the box, without ever once plugging it into iTunes on the desktop. (I don't think I've synced with iTunes on the desktop even once since the iPhone 4S launched with iOS 5 in October of 2011.)

Sure, transferring big media files and moving around large numbers of icons are still painful in the wireless world, but that's something Apple can and needs to fix, and inevitably it won't be by going back to the iTunes desktop.

There's a reason why the iPad doesn't run iTunes desktop, and why you can't download iTunes desktop from the iOS app store.

There's a reason why the iPad doesn't run iTunes desktop, and why you can't download iTunes desktop from the iOS app store. You can't tether an iPhone to an iPad for device management purposes. iOS didn't need no stinking iTunes desktop. And it's the same reason why Windows 8 probably won't get a "Metro" version of iTunes desktop either.

Microsoft is still dominant-beyond-dominant in the PC market, but the PC market isn't as important as it used to be. New iOS customers, the kind who are drawn to things like Windows 8 "Metro", are probably also drawn to online services like iCloud, Dropbox, Skydrive, Spotify, Netflix, etc. and they'll do just fine without traditional iTunes ported and portly on the Surface RT. Mainstream customers, the kind who are sticking with Windows XP or Windows 7, are also likely sticking with iTunes desktop, and they'll be just fine with traditional iTunes running as a traditional desktop app.

iTunes for Mac is in the midst of a transition. It's not impossible to see where it's going over the next few years, and it's not the stodgy old desktop we all know and love to hate. It's going somewhere new. If an how iTunes for Windows goes with it will depend on Windows' importance in the post-PC world. Maybe iTunes will become more an iCloud-powered player than device management game.

That Microsoft has re-discovered the tablet market is nice. That they're experimenting with mix-mode devices is interesting. But Metro probably doesn't need full-blown iTunes any more than iOS does, and the Windows 8 Store probably won't get old-style iTunes much faster than the App Store will get old-style Office.

The world has changed.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.