The Leaning Tower of Ping: How iTunes Could Be Apple’s Undoing

With each new product that Apple announces, including the revamped Apple TV and the new Ping social network, Steve Jobs reveals a little bit more of his plan to dominate the media universe. But I can summarize that plan’s fatal flaw in one word: iTunes.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Apple’s hardware is unbeatable, and my admiration for it has only grown since I got my first iPod back in 2003. My home/office is virtually an outpost of the Apple Store: with the exception of the TV, the videogame console, and the coffeemaker, almost every device in my house is an iGadget of some kind. The operating systems that power my Apple devices are pretty good, too. I love OS X and I’m very glad that Xconomy is a mostly Mac shop. On the mobile side, Android is impressive, but iOS is the slickest and most user-friendly mobile operating system out there, in my judgment.

itunes-10-logoBut there’s one piece of the Appleverse that I’ve always detested, and that’s the desktop version of iTunes. The ugly duckling of the iFamily, this program is hard to understand, hard to use, inelegant, and ill-behaved—in short, the very opposite of most other Apple products. I dread booting it up every day, yet I can’t sidestep it. What makes iTunes’ deficiencies so infuriating is that the program is indispensable: it’s the nerve center that stores all of your Apple-related media content, mediates all of your Apple-related purchases, and connects all of your Apple devices.

The rollout of iTunes 10, the latest “upgrade” to this nearly 10-year-old program, was one of the two centerpieces of Steve Jobs’ keynote talk on Wednesday, the other being Apple TV, of which I’ll say more in a moment. And the big new feature of iTunes 10 is Ping—a Facebook-like social network designed to help users discover music by seeing what their friends are buying for their iPods.

I’ve been playing with Ping, and it seems to have most of the features you’d expect of a media-centric social network circa 2010—profiles, friending, news feeds, comments. Plus, of course, you can easily preview or buy the songs or albums mentioned in your friends’ news feeds. It’s easy to see how Apple might expand Ping beyond music to facilitate conversations around media of all sorts, including movies, books, and mobile apps.

itunes-pingThat said, Ping has some serious limitations that, to me, are symptomatic of the larger problems with iTunes. For example, there’s no integration with Facebook or even with your contact lists, so it’s virtually impossible to find real-world friends to connect with. For a social networking tool, this is a bit of a problem. (Kara Swisher at AllThingsD grilled Steve Jobs on this very issue, and his suggestion for finding friends was to “type their names into search or send them emails inviting them to join.”)

And there’s an even bigger issue: Adding a social networking interface, on top of all of iTunes’ other functions, is like grafting another limb to the forehead of an octopus. It’s just too much.

Few people may remember this far back, but iTunes predates even the iPod. It started out in early 2001 as nothing more than a program for ripping CDs and playing the resulting MP3s from your computer. (It was based on … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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  • Jered

    Yeah, iTunes is pretty much made of fail these days. I don’t know anyone who likes it in the slightest. It takes forever to load, and is a bottleneck to doing most useful things with iDevices — no wireless syncing, in 2010, really?

    iTunes 10 really shows how out of touch Steve is on software. They bought Lala ages ago, and what feature did they finally roll out? The most useless one — seeing what other people have bought, and within iTunes instead of being web based! Where is my cloud media streaming?

    Unfortunately, there’s no alternative that’s driven by customer-facing features. Apple does a great job of making easy-to-use products, but they stagnate unless challenged. The iPhone would be half of what it is today if it were not for Android. We need a Google music ecosystem to kick Apple into gear again.

  • Mike Kaufmann

    CRUFT. Interesting word. Sounds like CRUD. That’s cool, Steve! Right on, Wade! Let’s rethink your goals, Apple!

  • John

    When iTunes debuted, people complained because it lacked this feature, that feature, and blah blah blah.

    Over the past six years, it’s evolved to add how many pages of features.

    So remember, be careful what you wish for. Everybody wanted it to be all things to all people. And Apple has tried. And this is what we ended up with. And yet it’s STILL better than its competition.

    Same goes for the hardware. The iPod is too small, no it’s too big. The iPad screen isn’t big enough, but I want a smaller one. There is no satisfying everybody. R&D is expensive, production is expensive, so companies, at least good ones, do their research and try to satisfy the largest number of the masses as possible.

    You know what, I like iTunes. It syncs fast with my iPhone 4, it hasn’t crashed on me in over 3 versions.

  • Steve

    I’m not sure I understand the logic behind this very long rant. Apparently, iTunes is bad because it has many features? Through this entire article, I don’t recall hearing a practical alternative. There was some mention of breaking up the software, but to what end? Do we really want to have to worry about updating the music library program, updating the syncing program, updating the ping program, updating the program that creates jewel cases, etc, etc. then worry about making sure all of these programs are in sync? No?

    There was a rant about how iTunes manages your music behind the scenes. Do you realize this is OPTIONAL? No? I’m guessing not. You mention that it’s hard to find music, yet, since you’re using a Mac, have you tried finding it with Spotlight? No, no mention of that.

    This may come as a surprise to you, but many people, including myself, actually like the iTunes interface and the functionality provided. I have no desire to use Ping, but I don’t mind the functionality exists.

    You also go on about how the program is poorly designed and needs an overhaul before it stops functioning, etc. Yet, you also concede that you’re not a software engineer. So, which is it? Do you have any evidence that the program is difficult to support and maintain or are you just making assumptions based on all the features you see?

    I’m open minded to changes, but I rant like this should at least come with a solid recommendation for what Apple should do. A rant like this should also consider the ramifications of making that change. This article falls short on these accounts.

  • Yacko

    Within two iterations iTunes will be a cloud database back end with a slimmer user client on a desktop, laptop or mobile device. Users will still have locally stored options but with fee streaming, a back catalog of millions and a portable library of say, 10,000 most users won’t want anything else. And that’s just the music. The current “bloat” won’t stand for long. Unlike Microsoft, Apple is not afraid to chuck old code wholesale and go on a new tangent.

  • Ed Malloy

    Is this stupid or what? iTunes is bad because it does most of what you would like to do with music.

    Any competent software engineer will agree that iTunes pretty much defined the current state of personal interaction on the internet. It is so good that most people like the person who wrote this diatribe just don’t realize what is is doing! It is a great programming achievement. (period)

    As to cruft … well as a software engineer, I’d say that from what I see, iTunes might be the anti-cruft program.

    and it’s interface it uncomplicated — Task on the left, items on the right … Yup, those are my movies… and tht’s the contents of the album. duh!

    I have close to 100,00 tunes, 100’s of audiobooks, dozens of full length movies and scored of short clips, and itunes is quick and responsive on my MacBook Pro. I’ve over 60,000 tunes o and tons of movies and clips on my older iMac, and it also is quick and smooth.

    As to Ping, it’s definitely a work in progress, and I think has the potential to be a very big deal indeed. For example it puts indie labels on the same footing with the (so called) majors.

    I am sure that facebook will eventually “play nice” with Ping. Or else sone other program will and …

  • Rob Wagner

    I actually like the suite of features that iTunes provides. It’s booked to be a one-stop-shop for managing my media, and I appreciate that.

    On the other hand, at least on my Windows 7 home machine, iTunes is a horrible pig. I’ve got a large music collection, a large number of podcasts I subscribe to, and a fair number of digital copies of movies in my library. This adds up to iTunes consuming more than 1 GB of ram by itself, and operating quite slowly. Syncing my iPhone and iPod are a serious exercise in patience.

    My advice would be to spend a whole release just for performance improvements. That would make all my complaints go away.

    (Oh, and wireless sync would definitely be nice too!)

  • Markus Winter

    Anyone who says “iTunes is hard to use” only displays incompetence – my 76 year old father (blue-colour worker without prior IT experience, iMac & iPod Touch), my 68 year old mother (housewife, 4 kids, no IT either, MBP & iPod Touch), my 64 year old aunt (housewife, 3 kids, no IT, MBP & iPod Touch) and many more I know have no problem with it.

    So if you think “iTunes is hard to use” then I humbly suggest you have no business writing this column.

  • iToots

    yeah, I can’t use the itunes. Shortly after I first encountered the program(10years ago) I quickly realized that we were like oil and water, I am a bit of a control freak, and itunes and I had some conflicts. I was the human and I owned the computer so itunes went. And yes I anthropomorphize my software programs. I do run some MS systems, so that could have been the problem, though now it’s become a self sustaining feedback loop. I never purchase apple hardware for fear of being forced to integrate itunes into the rest of my technological household.
    Personally I believe this little policy has saved me mucho $ and hair.

  • Darren Mason

    This article is off base. iTunes still runs well. System requirements have increased of course over 10 years of updates, like most software.

    iTunes has added these features because of customer demand. They have mostly been added without too much clutter. The only part of the article I somewhat agree with is that iTunes takes control of your media and can make it difficult to find and manage your files manually. (though I’ve never had trouble finding my files.)

    People should remember that iTunes helped the music industry recover post-Napster by helping to monetize online song downloads. Jobs is now helping to get the major studios to go for volume pricing and get movies and tv shows online in a form that can allow them to compete. Apple will add streaming and wireless syncing eventually. It’s only natural for them to add social features, and iTunes still opens quick, runs fine.

    What good would it do Apple to have a stripped down player that allows customizations that only a small percentage of users would want?

    It is hard to imagine what the music & video download landscape would look like if MS dominated the early days instead of Apple. But I’m sure I prefer Apple’s approach even with the DRM and file controls they have to put in to satisfy the content owners. I feel that Apple will fight more for the individual consumer than other companies.

  • Apple OSX may be UNIX at the core, but the ‘each app does one job and does it well’ UNIX concept is long since gone within iPrograms; this is a prime example.

  • HD Boy

    I find iTunes to be very powerful, yet easy to use and intuitive. It also shines when used wirelessly with an iPhone or iPod acting as a remote to control an A/V Receiver and speakers connected through an Apple Airport Express router.

  • Bob

    Can someone explain why there are two iTunes addins for Outlook 2007? There’s the iTunes Outlook Add-in and Outlook Change Notifier.

    I just had a fix a user’s problem with Outlook that was caused by the Notifier. Disabling that add-in made Outlook stop crashing.

    So if you want to talk about Cruft, there’s another example. I suppose that the add-ins are there so that people can synchronize mail across the iPhone/Pad/Touch with the Desktop. But it is completely useless – if not worse – for people who don’t have the iDevices.

  • Jered

    Everyone here who says “iTunes isn’t so bad” must not have much music.

    I have about 90 GB of music. I assert that this should be a reasonable amount for iTunes to handle, given that Apple sells 160 GB iPod classics. I have a Core 2 Duo Mac mini.

    It takes approximately 30 seconds for iTunes to load its library on start, during which nothing else can be done. That’s right… it I want to, oh, _sync my phone contacts_ I have to wait for iTunes to load for 30 seconds. That’s ridiculously unacceptable. It’s like, I don’t know, if you had to load Microsoft Word in order to connect a new Bluetooth mouse.

  • In general, it is a poor idea to throw out your existing product. Certainly it can be tempting as a software developer to say “this would be a lot easier if we were working from scratch”, and it’s a lot less *fun* to update and refactor code, but it’s not a rational business decision.

    Certainly, there is sometimes the need to re-engineer parts, or re-design user interfaces. And on occasion, when the codebase is fundamentally flawed and cannot be improved to meet current and future requirements, a new product is appropriate. I am not convinced iTunes meets this definition.

  • Michael

    Parts of the article are on the money, and parts are not. iTunes’ problem isn’t trying to shoehorn unrelated features into an existing model. It’s that the existing model isn’t scalable to begin with.

    I have no doubt that the poster who says his grandmother has no problem using iTunes is being honest: If all I wanted to do was listen to/watch a smallish media collection and handle iPhone apps, I’d have no problem with iTunes. Instead, I have 100GB of music alone (much of it classical, which iTunes sucks at handling metadata for) and another TB or so of video. All this is shared across 2 desktops, 2 laptops, phone, and music player (for working out). Add in sharing some of that with my gf, and you have demands that iTunes can’t handle without constant workarounds.

    iTunes was fine when it needed to run my iPod, but I’ve moved beyond the “small media collection” model, while iTunes hasn’t kept up with me.

    If I could work within Apple’s infrastructure without iTunes, I would. Instead, I’ve switched to Linux/Windows for the desktops — iTunes was just not worth all the workarounds anymore.

  • Tom

    It’s worth noting that iTunes 10 isn’t 64 bit – they haven’t had their QuickTime X moment of clearing it up, and improving the backend code to help sort bloat and speed.

  • bigyaz

    I know it’s cool to hate on iTunes and tout the alternatives (many of which I’ve tried), but the thing works. Yes, it can be slow, but beyond that I have few issues. As near as I can tell the author doesn’t think the iTunes’s features are bad, or don’t work — just that there are too many of them in one application.

  • David

    I’ve only scan ready this article, yes terrible I know, so won’t try and express any awareness of whether Ping will or won’t succeed or if iTunes is going to be some great undoing of Apple (for gods sake!) but… all this angst and grumbling about iTunes, dreading-hating it! Is this really the most important piece of software you own (and which came for free!)? It’s a leisure tool… I have to admit I just find myself getting on with using it!

  • steve

    Ed M., just try to sync an iPhone with two computers and then tell me that iTunes is a great app

  • Markus Winter

    My father, mother, and aunt were quoted for the “easy to use” bit. If it is a Power User you want then how about me:

    No problems with 8600+ songs, 200+ GB of PodCasts and iTunes University, 250+ AudioBooks, 456 movies, 200+ apps – all on a 17in 2,5 GHz MacBook Pro, 4 GB RAM, 500 GB HD with 2 iPod Touch (8 GB 1G, 64 GB 3G) and 2 64 GB WiFi iPads (for my wife and me)

    I do manage songs and movies manually though – I don’t synchronize them automatically as I’m quite selective on what I put on my iPod.

    @iToots: Saying you have no clue but you are sure that served you well is not an endearing position to take – I know it is modern times but ignorance is still not a virtue, no matter what the media say.

  • MGK

    and iTunes 10 breaks all third-party iTunes servers based on FireFly etc… strategy or bug?

  • Markus Winter

    @Steve: Make up your mind: How could an iPod sync to two computers? It is logically not possible. For example how would removal of songs work?

    It is not the fault of iTunes if you don’t understand how sync works.

    If you want to use your iPod with two computers, then manage what goes onto the iPod manually and voila – no problem.

    Jeez – why do people always want to display their ignorance?

  • Mouring

    This makes no sense to me:

    “And why is it that I can I use iTunes to synchronize my mobile and desktop calendars and address books, but to synchronize my photo albums, I have to fire up a separate program, iPhoto?”

    I’ve *NEVER* needed to fire up iPhoto to sync photos. Plug in the device, go to device in iTunes, go to “photos tab” and from there I can either select iPhoto and the album I want to sync, or I can sync from a directory. Unless your complaint is that iPhoto isn’t merged with iTunes so you can selectively pick pictures. Which is true about Contacts, Calendars, and Notes. You can choice to sync all, group, or none.

  • Lord Grimthorpe

    Why does iTunes arbitrarily wipe stuff off my iPhone whenever I hook it up? Why does it install THREE background processes that run all the time – sucking up resources? Even then, it still takes forever to load and doesn’t support any open media formats (ogg, flac). I hate that program with the fury of a billion suns.

  • @Markus: Sorry if I was inexact in the passage you quoted. It would be better to say that iTunes is hard to use, compared to every other Apple product I have. With iOS and Cocoa Apple has really stepped up their game on the mobile side, making iPhones, iPods, and iPads a real pleasure to use. What I’m requesting is that the company now apply some of this great UI thinking back to their desktop software.

    @Yacko: I hope you’re right. Apple has done the start-from-scratch thing successfully before. But I can’t hurt for users to nudge them a little by reminding them just how bloated iTunes has gotten.

    @Mouring: I’ve selected all the same things you’ve selected on the Photos tab of iTunes, and it never syncs my photos at all, unless I start up iPhoto separately. It’s one of the eternal iTunes mysteries that I’m just fed up with.

  • Will J.

    It seems that Wade Roush doesn’t understand what he’s writing about, and doesn’t even understand what he’s quoting. Neal Stephenson’s description of “cruft” (and Mr. Roush’s summary of it) clearly refer to CODE. But then the list of complaints about iTunes have nothing to do with the code base (not surprising, since the writer isn’t in a position to analyze that). If the writer’s complaints were justified (and I’m not sure they are), that would be an example of “feature bloat”, not “cruft”. This column is mindless.

  • DigitalKnight

    Get out of your reality distorted world. iTunes is a “soul-less” piece of software with a completely outdated user experience (UX). Most of the recent additions to make it nicer we strongly inspired by the Zune software.

    And “Ping” is no exception. The Zune software is clearly years ahead in terms of musical UX and simplicity. The Zune Social allowed people to discover friends music, send suggestions (with links for purchase), earn badges, all this years ago.

    The Zune UX is plain simple, visually stunning and highly integrated with the artist database that blends customized content with the UX.

    iTunes with its overloaded menus collection and “information overloaded” list based screens is just belonging to the past. And don’t shout out loud about the fact that it’s easy to use. You are just used to it and didn’t probably tried anything else.

    (Oh, by the way, I know both iTunes and the Zune software very well)

  • Necniv

    I’m surprised that a separate iPod app, iPad app, iPhone app don’t exist to allow management of your idevices. But I don’t see the confusion since it’s only when your device is plugged in do you see all this “confusion”.

    I have an older macbook pro with about 5,000 songs, a few videos and few hundred podcasts, but load time is only 10 seconds or so.

    But some of the comments are all over the place, either complaining that iTunes should be doing more, or that it’s a bloated piece of software full of “cruft”.

    Until Apple gives us a dedicated management app will we get away from this issue. But until then, it’s not that big of an deal for me as I update and manage stuff on my phone about once a week and my iPod almost never gets updated.

  • Mark Strait

    Hmmm, I plug my device into my Mac and everything works just the way I set it up, every time. After 10 years no one in the industry has done a better job than Apple. What amazes me even more, Apple has no competition. What competition that does exists, pales in comparison. So stop trashing what works, unless you can show me a better alternative.

  • DigitalKnight

    @Mark Strait

    You’re right, it works fine. Meanwhile, it is not because it is the best product.

    The UX is inferior. And the players are overpriced for what you get. The Apple tax at its best.

    There is no competition because the “iPod” and “iTunes” are now in the common knowledge and common language which now yields an unstoppable critical mass. And one must not ignore the “social statement” that comes with the ownership of Apple products.

    That’s it. Nothing more.

  • Jim W

    I beg to differ with those that say iTunes Runs just fine.

    Perhaps it runs on Mac OS fine, but on my XP install it is slow and unresponsive. Downloading music from the iTunes store takes forever. And music and video playback is choppy. Any other media app on the same box works just fine.

    Now to those of you who are thinking, “get a real OS” I would say, I have one, but iTunes is indispensable and doesn’t run on my Linux partition. And no, I don’t want to spend twice the money for the same intel hardware with an apple icon on the front. Not to mention the fact that I am forced to use Windoze at work.

  • Brian P.

    I personally love iTunes. It’s awesome. If it’s not working for you, I would suggest you get a decent (Mac) computer and ditch that lousy WIndows system. You will not regret that move. I have hundreds of gigabytes of files over many Macs. You sure your WIndoze system isn’t infected? 30 seconds to ‘boot’ (wrong term there) iTunes? On what DELL are you talking about?

    DigitalKnight: Yours is the most inane post here. A windows user complaining about UX? LOL!!!

  • Brian P.

    Inspired by Zune? I may never stop laughing at that outrageous comment.

    This ‘article’ is totally off base. iTunes does a LOT. This is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. It doesn’t demonstrate CRUFT. Cruft is like spagetti code. iTunes isn’t full of bugs, if it were, that would be indicative of CRUFT. If you want a feature less environment, maybe try Windoze Media.

  • Bill D.

    So in one breath you’re complaining about all the utilities Apple jammed into iTunes, and in the next you’re complaining that you have to switch to iPhoto to synchronize photo albums while iTunes synchronizes everything else. Which is it?

  • ed malloy

    “just try to sync an iPhone with two computers and then tell me that iTunes is a great app.”
    I’m sure that you mean auto sync. I believe that you can manually, but then it’s really not synching. It would be nice, but just think about the structure of the records…. the timing, the priorities, ..

    Much easier to copy anything I want to auto-sync to one machine. I do it all the time. That’s what Scripts are for (among a zillion other things)

    itunes is a great app.

  • Jered

    @ed malloy: Nope; as of a relatively recent iTunes update (past 2 yrs?), you can no longer manually manage an iDevice from multiple machines. Your iPod/iPhone is linked to a specific Library ID. If you try to copy music to it from a different machine, you are prompted if you would like to wipe the iPod and link it to the new library.

    This was a huge feature regression, and intensely irritating to those of us who have both work and home machines. If I buy new music at work, I can’t put it on my iPhone until I get home. This was clearly an intentional feature as well.

    A related issue is going to be how Game Center and Ping work with Apple IDs. Apple, so far, has supported the family model well… everyone in my family has an iPhone, and they’re all on my Apple ID so that we can share music and apps. If Game Center and Ping are “one identity per Apple ID,” we’re gonna have big problems.

  • Brian M

    I do like iTunes, there are some things that could maybe be tweaked, but I do like having one place to go to, to do most of my media management. I use smart playlists with things like gengre, BPM, Ratings for music. The automatic adding of TV shows and movies depending on how new they are, and if they have been watched.
    The only area that I think could be improved would be a system to allow a laptop and desktop to work better together since most portables tend to have much less storage available to them compared with desktop systems.

    As for the sync with 2 computers issue… talk to the studio’s the reason for that limit from the beginning of the iPod was a piracy issue raised by the studios.

    About the support of other standards, I do agree as a player it should support plug-ins so you could play FLAC etc… but it does add complexity for the user when their portable player doesn’t support the codec. (it is bad enough trying to explain to people how to burn an mp3 CD for their car, when the music is in AAC format… this is something else that could use a tweak, it should be possible to automate this conversion as a temporary thing for just that burn)

  • Vik

    @Jared- you must have a problem with your OS / computer / hard drive then. I have over 1TB of music (including 100GB of audiobooks) and the only time it takes 30 seconds to load is when updating the library file, which only happens once for each iTunes update. Otherwise, my library loads in < 10 seconds. And this is on an older Mac Mini, C2D 2.0, 2GB RAM, USB2 1.5Tb external hard drive. Fix your system and try again.

  • Arakun

    I fully agree with this article. I’ve used iTunes since version 1.0 on MacOS 9 although it wasn’t until the release of MacOS X that it became my preferred music player. iTunes pretty much killed the market for music players on the Mac so it’s not like there is much choice. Every now and then an open source project pops up but development stops before it actually becomes useful.

    One problem with gathering so many different features under one roof is that there will always be things that don’t work the way I’d like. Thus I use separate applications to rip and burn my CDs and so far I’ve never bought any music through the store. I still treat it as just a music player and try to hide as much of the cruft I can.

    Then there are things that feel completely out of place. My first reaction when the iTunes Music Store was launched was: ‘This looks like a home page and it’s got its own user interface within another user interface. Why is this inside my music player and why is it not its own application?’ Same thing with many of the other features that all feel like applications within an application, each with its own rules. It’s ugly, complicated and confusing.

    I don’t think we’ll see a redesigned iTunes anytime soon. However, if there’s one company that’s used to abandoning old technology and start all over then it’s Apple.

  • You’re having problems with iTunes? Are you sure you’re running a Mac?

  • Bernie P.

    Ping is a work in progress as you are as a columnist. Ping is starting up, you aren’t; that surely explains Apple’s flailing, but what can a reader make of yours?

    You seem to wear Apple’s devices on your sleeve but it would obviously suit you better to port them to your peeves. Yes I know, Apple is doomed and you’re only trying to help them through their final moments. But what music is more pleasant to the ears: a swan song or the ranting of a prophet of doom…?

  • AdamC

    Wasted 10 minutes of my life reading someone’s personal opinions but not a creation which can make the world a better place.

  • zato

    HOW TO IDENTIFY PROFESSIONAL ANTI-APPLE PROPAGANDA:

    1: Author works hard to prove how “Mac” he is.
    2: Author writes sentences with multiple “KILLS”, for example:
    “The rollout of iTunes 10, the latest “upgrade” to this nearly 10-year-old program”
    Notice how upgrade is in quotes, to imply that it isn’t really an upgrade. Further along in the sentence “this nearly 10 year old” – implying that the software is “old”. -2 kills in one sentence.

    With the PING rollout comes an all-out anti-iTunes propaganda effort from Microsoft. Expect to see plenty more all across the net.

  • Ex2bot

    DigitalKnight: I FIND ITUNES EASY TO USE. But you’re right I’ve used it for a long time (01) and I haven’t used a Zune.

    Incidentally, Neal Stephenson’s answer to cruft was open source (i.e. being able to fix the code yourself). While I honestly admire what’s been done in the open source communities (esp. Linux), Linux still seems best for the expert crowd.

  • bob

    There’s one and only one reason itunes will never be on the web.

    Because Steve Jobs promised the record labels he would not put their music, “on the web”.

    Many of the things that iTunes does to piss you off are actually contractual agreements.

    Besides all that, I agree that apples extensions to iTunes are anachronisms and display that they themselves are stuck with this application and also makes Apple look incompetent since everyone knows opening iTunes to the web is the only sensible step and then they dont have to wedge everything into this horrible horrible box.

  • Kirk

    Jered, I have a large music library and I found one way to speedup iTunes startup: Either get rid of your smart playlists or turn off live updating of them. After I did this iTunes started up much faster.

  • Fred

    What’s a Zune?

  • I’m amazed at, and grateful for, all the comments on this story today. Clearly iTunes works just fine for some people, which is great. Others seem to share my frustrations with it. At least the piece seems to have hit a nerve.

    @Bill D: You wrote ‘So in one breath you’re complaining about all the utilities Apple jammed into iTunes, and in the next you’re complaining that you have to switch to iPhoto to synchronize photo albums while iTunes synchronizes everything else. Which is it?” I was trying to point out what I see as one of the weaknesses of iTunes — its inconsistency. It purports to be the manager for all your media, but then for no apparent reason it excludes photos.

    @Mark Strait: You and a couple of other commenters suggested that I shouldn’t criticize iTunes if I can’t come up with a better program myself. Balderdash. That’s like saying I shouldn’t be allowed to write critically about a Monet if I can’t paint or about a Charles Ives symphony if I can’t compose.

    To put it simply: I can recognize good or bad software engineering because well written programs make me happy and bad ones just make me want to hurry on to my next task. iTunes is one of the latter. Most Apple products make me happy, and I’m curious about why iTunes is so different. It makes me wonder whether this program, in its current form, is well suited to be the lynchpin for Apple’s whole media strategy.

  • iTunesuser

    I’ve never understood people who find iTunes ‘confusing’. Honestly, you’d have to be a moron. And to call it ‘inelegant’ is pure fantasy.

  • If you had to start up a new program to preform each of these functions it would be a nightmare.

  • David b

    Your criticizing a product of a company that throws away more ideas and prototypes than it keeps. you can be sure that for every iTunes approach and feature that sticks there are probably three that are tossed. You level some general criticisms without really making any real specific substantive points. neither do you have a clue about solutions to your gripes. which features do you want to thow away? apple is the only company I know that takes huge risks in making a current very successful product old stuff with a new one. iTunes will be no different when it is time.

  • Tim

    How is iTunes hard to understand or hard to use? Seriously. When you open iTunes what do you want to do in it that you have to stare at the buttons for minutes on end trying to figure out what to do?

    I’ve been using iTunes since the very first version and even back then I didn’t find it confusing, and I certainly don’t now.

    Perhaps you shouldn’t be writing about technology if you find a program like iTunes difficult. Have you tackled Address Book yet?

    All kidding aside, even on the other aspects you mentioned, I don’t get it. iTunes is the one program that I don’t think has ever once crashed on me. It always does what I tell it to do and seems to do it quite well. I’ve never lost any songs, movies or had my iPod corrupted while using it, or anything else untoward.

    Yes, it’s a workhorse that perhaps it got a tiny bit of ugly paint slapped on it in version 10, but it still works for me and I’m guessing a lot of other people too. If it weren’t, I think Apple would have a vested interest in overhauling it. (And they do that, don’t forget about the new Shuffle.)

  • Mike Campbell

    Interesting article but I must be using a different product.

    I think that overall iTunes is great & it’s free.

    On a Dell 390 with XP SP3 I have a 120GB iTunes database. 50/50 music/video plus Podacsts etc.
    Syncs flawlessly with an Apple TV (I want a 500GB Apple TV but fat chance).
    Syncs flawlessly with 22 iPods, 4 iPhones, an iPad (back up is SLOW).
    Purchases via iTunes Store are also flawless, plus have a ton of Apps.

    Also installed on other PCs & three Macs.

    Overall I give it 9 out of 10.

    Mike Campbell – Brighton Marina, UK
    (Age 61. 40+ years in IT & have used everything. I don’t work for Apple)

  • Mike Campbell

    Having now read Wade’s article in detail, & the huge variety of responses, I should like to add these comments which may assist some readers:

    iTunes Specific:
    Superb training at Lynda.com
    http://www.lynda.com/home/DisplayCourse.aspx?lpk2=58986
    iTunes 9 Essential Traing by Garrick Chow
    Anything by GC is worth watching

    Any iPod book by JB at http://www.missingmanuals.com

    And, of course, RTFM !

    Digital Hub:
    Get a decent Mac or PC as your main “digital hub” to which all other devices link.
    Supported by a modern communications infrastructure ie. fast Broadband/Cable & WiFi “n”.

    PCs & Macs should be 2GB-4GB RAM, big hard drives 7,200rpm
    Decent Security Suite & Firewall stuff
    Load the minimum apps at Start Up
    Then BACK UP, BACK UP & BACK UP, especially before any upgrades, plus System Restore for PC.

    Get an IT Mentor, free/fee.

    Follow all of this & the world is your oyster….
    Sadly, nobody ever listens.

    As an aside, I speculate that Apple will do a complete iTunes rewrite or overhaul within three years. They did it for Macs with OS X.
    With 160M iTunes Credit Card Accounts in 23 countries they’ll have to get it right – FIRST time.

    Good luck everyone
    Mike Campbell – UK

  • Bettie

    I’m new, using a Dell laptop. I first encountered iTunes a few months ago, version 9.
    I love it. It does all sorts of things that I’d been trying, with difficulty, to do with separate programs, and does them very well indeed.
    So shut up. You’re doing a silly, techie rant.
    Bettie

  • In the same essay you quote, Stephenson also confidently predicts that within ten years, Linux will completely replace Windows and the Mac OS. This was in 1999.

    When I read someone quoting Stephenson, I immediately reach for the salt shaker, because I know it’s going to take much more than one grain. :)

  • davesmall

    I like iTunes and don’t share any of this author’s views. I have several iOS devices including an iPhone and iPad. I plug each device into the USB port on my laptop once a day and get automatic backup, a battery charge, App updates, and anything else iTunes might have that I want that day. I already have wireless sync for the items that change frequently via my MobileMe account. I don’t see a benefit to wireless syncing for app updates and media downloads because USB is faster and I need to charge the battery and make a backup anyway.

    I don’t see any value to Ping. But then I don’t see any value to Facebook either.

  • Arby

    I have no problem with iTunes being the “jack of all trades” for media, but it DOES have some weird unintuitive ways of doing things, some unintuitive UI here and there, and worst of all, it’s not a “fast” and responsive app. Compared to everything I run on my 2.6 quadcore, it’s the clunkiest. Just managing iphone apps via iTunes reminds me of the old days of using Windows 3.1. We’re talking sluggish!

  • Patrick

    Lately it is very fashionable to bash iTunes in the blogosphere. I really can’t understand it. Compared to software like Microsoft office, iTunes is very fast and uncluttered. It fulfills its mission very capably. I will admit that iTunes 9 had some minor stability problems and some issues syncing iPhone content, some of which were a bit frustrating. However, from what I can tell, iTunes 10 fixes all of these problems quite well. iTunes 10 is also quite fast. I guess people just like to bitch about things…

  • Dave

    It looks like everyone thinks you’re full of shit. You probably have a good point, you just chose the wrong argument. iTunes tries to do too much but does an okay job of it. It is not the best place for a social network but when that network requires so much integration with your music, there is nowhere else to put it that makes any sense. So just accept that iTunes now does one more thing that it perhaps should not do. If they renamed it to iKitchenSink, would that make you feel better about it all?

  • spooky

    I’m not crazy about iTunes either. In a lot of respects it’s great but with stuff like syncing your iPhone… it’s majorly annoying.
    Like… plug in your iPhone and press through multiple tabs to sync your movies, photos, apps etc… then halfway through you decide to buy a song… so you have to wait while iTunes starts syncing first and locks everything up.. then it’s multiple tabs and windows again… back to the sync…. then you finally think you’re finished and hit SYNC and go to bed. Next morning you discover a warning window saying there isn’t enough room on your iPhone to fit all the songs…. so then you end up scrambling to try and get it synced up before you head out to work.

  • Scott

    I find there is a trend in relation to the people who hate iTunes and tge people that apparently own pc’s. I own a MacBook pro, and the only time I have to load iTunes is after an update, otherwise my Mac stays on 24/7. I never find that iTunes is slow to respond, even after an accumulation of over 100 gigs of media. It never crashes, even with many other things going on in the background, syncing my phone, using the iTunes store, so on and so on. And as for the “inconvenience” of having to open iTunes to sync your phone? Remember the days of your first cell? Zero interfacing with your computer. No backups, no software tweaks, nothing. You’re becoming spoiled.

    If all these problems only seem to be related to pc’s, maybe the problem isn’t the program. If a cd plays fine in one player but skips in another, should you blame the cd, or the piece of trash your playing it with?

  • MH

    I run a windows PC and iTunes is the only program that ever crashes. For the person with the CD analogy, if your player plays every CD okay except one perhaps it is the CD. I would love to be able to sync my iPhone and iPod with another program, but sadly cannot.

    I have not used iTunes 10 long enough to have an opinion on it yet. I did turn on Ping for a day, but all I saw were “win a free iPhone 4” ads, so I turned it off.

  • Eric Schatz

    So is this an application or isn’t it really a multimedia operating system?

  • @MH I run hunreds of Windows PCs and iTunes is one of the few things that doesn’t cause problems. The whole purpose of Windows is it’s a cash cow for the enormous support, maintenance, training, service, and security industries. Windows has made its fortune on how bad it is. Why are you using something that crashes all the time anyway?

  • John

    These criticism cover a lot of ground, and are inconsistent (sometime too many features, sometimes not enough). Perhaps they should have been broken into several different blog posts to bring some order to the criticism madness :).

    Seriously, though – reading this, I wondered what programs you’re using. iTunes manages synching to the various Apple devices and plays and organizes media. I’ve yet to see anything else that does that better. Asking it to manage photos would be like asking it to manage addresses or calendards, which is dumb, because you can do that far more easily thought the various Apple apps OR Google OR Exchange OR yahoo OR MobileMe.

    I can’t think of much software I use daily that’s as straightforward as iTunes.

  • James Z

    don’t know what you’re all talking about, iTunes works fine for me. user friendly enough, more than anything else you can find out there anyway.

  • LAViking

    Jered, quit being such a hater. OMG!! Aside from wireless syncing iTunes (a feature I hope is added soon) iTunes does a an excellent job. Are you sure you’re not a Fandroid Troll?

  • Eddietec

    Put me on the list that iTunes runs great. Not issues at all and waiting for APPL to add more features :) Sure, it runs on a Mac.

  • As you can read from my post, I finally have gotten some actual directions from Apple about how to proceed getting a profile approved for an Indie artist and I have a contact email for people to write to:

    http://gulture.com/wordpress/?p=792

  • Felonious Munk

    Yeah, you’re right.
    To paraphrase Winston Churchill:

    ITunes is the worst on-line service.
    Except for all the others.

  • Paul Moloney

    “I don’t recall hearing a practical alternative”

    Umm, Media Monkey? I’m new to the Apple market having only just bought an iPhone. I can’t believe how intuitive iTunes is (especially as the iPhone is so intuitive). It’s like 2 entirely seperately companies made these. Honestly, try MediaMonkey for transferring music, try iTunes, and then try to tell me that latter is better.

    Hoards of fan boys bashing me in three, two, one…

    P.

  • dymaxion

    Apple will never “get” the web. They killed Lala and still don’t have a simple web based interface to iTunes.

    After their handling of Lala I will never purchase an Apple product. Its just another way to get screwed

  • Jered

    @dymaxion: The most valuable part of this comment thread, for me, has been the claim that “Apple promised the labels that their music would never go on the web,” which is a thoroughly plausible reason for the embedded not-quite-web experience in iTunes, the application bundling, and so forth.

    I’m quite curious now if this is true, and there is a contractual reason for the messy bits of iTunes. Wade, up for some investigative journalism? :-)

  • I am surprised to see so many people trying to defend iTunes within these comments!

    I used Windows XP, so it’s probably different from OS X users. But, iTunes uses like 80 megs of RAM while it is OFF! It runs three background processes when I start the computer. This is unfortunate since I have a Dell Mini 12, and don’t have a lot of resources to spare. But, I do have an iTouch which I happen to like.

    In terms of functionality, I have had bizarre experiences just using this program to sync my iPod. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I need to try multiple times, and after the 3rd time, it finally puts on my new files, even though I did everything the same every time I synced (that is, I clicked the “sync” button and then waited)

    I actually recently decided to launch a blog dedicated to how much I hate iTunes. (link provided above)

  • Lk

    “I think Apple’s hardware is unbeatable, and my admiration for it has only grown since I got my first iPod back in 2003. ”

    I stopped reading, my dog is a better tech journalist than you.
    Your editor should be ashamed of hiring this kind of people

  • @Lk: If you’ve got a dog who’s a better tech journalist than Wade Roush, then I’ve got a desk, computer, and 401k for your dog.
    Sincerely, Wade’s editor

  • Travis

    I hate iTunes because it is ridiculously slow.

    I have a very large media library. Multiple terabytes of iTunesU, music and movies, much of it stored on network drives.

    iTunes takes several MINUTES to load on my computer, which is a modern spec PC running Windows 7, and a fast wifi-N network.

    Syncing my iPod Touch is a very frustrating experience because every little click I do in iTunes causes another long wait while iTunes goes to the network drive to fetch heck only knows what data.

    iTunes is horribly unreliable. If I download content directly onto my iPod using the iTunes Store accessed on the device, there is only a 50/50 chance that the content will be correctly saved to my hard disk when I next Sync it to iTunes. It removes the content (despite me flagging the option that I’ll manage that stuff myself) and then I find that only some of the lectures are on my hard disk. The entries appear in iTunes, but the files aren’t found.

    I’ve lost many gigs of iTunesU stuff that way, had to redownload it.

    I use iTunes to download iTunesU content, that’s the main thing I do with it. As I prefer to organise content myself rather than rely on iTunes’ weird folder structure in the iTunes directory it would be much easier for me if I had just a nice, lightweight, slim program for syncing a directory of content dragged and dropped onto my iPod.

    And I did have such a program… Sharepod.

    But Apple’s gone and screwed that up for us by making changes to the iPod’s data structure, making Sharepod and several programs just like it useless again on iOS4 devices, until the programmers can figure out how to write to the iPod again without making a mess.

    Sharepod was fantastic. It would load instantly, copy media to or from my iPod quickly and without any fuss, giving me control over what exactly I put on there without having to worry that I still had some old Podcast episode which for some reason kept copying itself back onto my device despite repeated attempts to stop it, etc.

    I strongly suspect that Apple deliberately made these changes just to stop people from using Sharepod etc.

    It’s one thing to have their own program to do everything, it’s another to deliberately wreck other programs so that everyone will be forced to use theirs.

    I love my iPod, it’s a great little gizmo, but Apple’s conduct with respect to their app approval process, their inconsistent censorship policies, their frequent breaking of third party software and hardware to force people to use the Apple Product etc is far more intrusive than anything MS was ever up to, back in their bad old days when they were seen as a bunch of corporate bullies.

  • iTunes sucks

    I have a brand new Windows 7 laptop (Core i5 430M with 4GB DDR3 RAM and an SSD) and I just installed iTunes 10 on it. I erased all the content off my iPod then tried to drag three mp3 files into iTunes. iTunes hung and since then every time I open it it instantly hangs. Wait, now as I’m writing this, about 5 minutes later it doesn’t appear to be frozen anymore but I still can’t add anything into my library–nothing happens when I drag and drop files.

    iTunes is the biggest pile of junk software ever conceived. How hard can it be to copy over a handful of mp3s and a few GB of mp4s to an iPod Touch with iTunes? I’m glad I found an mp3 player that supports MSC mode so I can just drag and drop files to the device in any OS without having to install and use crapware to do it. What an innovation; just simply drag and drop files onto your device like a hard drive. Amazing Apple didn’t think of it.

    Unfortunately I still need my 64GB iPod Touch for mp4. I’ve tried running iTunes in VirtualBox, in Wine, and also tried ifuse/gtkpod and no go. So I’m stuck with this PIECE OF GARBAGE iTunes software until I find a descent alternative for an iPod Touch I guess.

  • Steve

    I wholly agree with everything mentioned in this article.

    The current iTunes software needs to be revamped. The problem is, Apple doesn’t see the need to since they have no direct competition. iTunes is core, so what would replace it? An updated version of iTunes would. Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening in the near or distant future.

    With the addition of Ping my hopes for a somewhat useful feature was raised, however, upon using it, it really did lack some crucial social networking features.

    The inability to add twitter-esq or blog-ish entries is the most notable. Facebook integration would have been amazing, but come on lets face it, Apple wouldn’t shell out additional money to have that feature (We all know Facebook would want to capitalize on that kind of relationship).

    I also find “pinging” or “liking” music that is only available to iTunes a little limiting. It seems that if you are not going to the iTunes store as frequent as Apple wants you to, they’re using this as another medium to obtain your money.

  • Steve

    @Rebecca Zacks: I’ll even throw in the executive extra-beef flavored bone!

  • ARil

    Macs were solid worthwhile computers with heart while most of you were waiting in line for Windows 95. Then around the time of ipod they transformed from being a maker of computers to consumer electronics. Everything since has made them into the new microsoft. But like Target is to Walmart people think they are tasteful and discerning. I type all this while my imac is slower than my two previous ones due to all the bloatware and processes running in the background.

  • Whew. On the one hand, this is a fairly well-written article, from the literary-technical standpoint, ignoring the subject matter. I enjoyed the Neal Stephenson references.

    OTOH, jeez, what a long-winded cranky pants! Yes, iTunes isn’t perfect, is getting a little chubby, and could use an overhaul. Maybe, though, Roush should learn how to use a Mac! A few of his complaints suggest he has a basic ignorance of how iTunes and the Finder interact, for one thing.

    I’m guessing most people find iTunes’ learning curve pretty reasonable; I like that it’s something like database software, allowing you a wide variety of choices in accessing & organizing your media collection. You learn as much of the program as you need to. For instance, I think Cover Flow is a really cool thing to show off to Windoze/non-Apple’ware users, but I’ve never used it after the first couple months.

    BTW, comparing iTunes to an architectural/esthetic marvel, a cultural icon hundreds of years old, is clever but pointless.

    Nevertheless, some good suggestions for improvements. As for Ping, I’m in no hurry…

  • Come to think of it, I’m still happily using iTunes 9.2.1, and I’m in no hurry to update that, Ping or no Ping. Sometimes you just gotta say ‘no’ to the latest update, or at least read a few articles & reviews before making the leap!

  • allele77

    On the whole topic of the iTunes monopoly, they’ve done a not-so-bad implementation for music, but the iTunes University experience has recently gone from bad to worse (as of the late 2010 update). I suppose people who use iTunes primarily for iTunes University just don’t matter!

    They’ve seriously broken the interface so that you can’t see all the courses by year like you used to be able to. You can’t browse by department like you used to be able to. Furthermore, once you download some university’s half-baked attempt to upload their coursework, half the time the lectures are in some random order, or sorted alphabetically by title! You have to intuit the order somehow, and even then you can’t easily change the order once you’ve done so — you’ve got to “hack” the structure on your hard drive or keep a list of the derived order and select the lectures one by one. Furthermore, there’s no mapping between the title of the course in the “iTunes Store” and how it shows up in your library under “iTunes U” — so you have to keep clicking back and forth between the two views to FIND your videos. When you sync to iPhone, there’s a third mapping that doesn’t always agree with the other two!

    Don’t get me wrong – I love it when it works! It just seems like their new format made a difficult task even more difficult! Just so you know that I’ve put in my hours on this – my recreated library is over 400 GB and I’ve listened to over 50 complete courses and dabbled in hundreds of others. I just resent the amount of time I have to spend to correct for the horrible interface, the lack of attention universities pay to organizing their classes so someone can view them (other than the kids actually attending school so they know what course to watch), and the inability to fix the mistakes in title, order, and grouping other than applying disk-based hacks that rely upon how iTunes works internally (and is therefore subject to change!).