[Update: this article was updated on July 23rd, 2015 to include comments about Apple Music. - Editor]
In the beginning, there was iTunes. Introduced in January 2001 at Macworld Expo, iTunes was strictly a music player which could burn CDs. In October of 2001, iPod support was added so you could manage the music on your device. Then in 2003 the music store was added. Movies became a new store section in 2006, iPhones and Apple TV were managed by iTunes starting in 2007, iPads in 2010, iTunes Match in 2011, and streaming iTunes Radio in 2014.
That's just the highlights. I'm not even talking about the smaller things that have been added, like the ability to convert to other formats, Home Sharing, Genius playlists, and Cover Flow. All of the big things each rates a standalone app. It makes no sense to bolt a piece on to a piece next to a piece like Apple has been doing. For a company that holds streamlining and simplicity so very dear, the fact that this Weasley House of software continues to ship is the single most confusing thing I've ever seen come from Cupertino. And this includes the iPod Hi-Fi.
And for those playing along at home, I'm not the only one who thinks so. Dan Moren at Macworld said something similar not long after I initially posted this article railing against iTunes. Apple's response to these pleas? Adding Apple Music as Yet Another Thing What iTunes Can Do For You Because It Should Be A Floor Wax And A Dessert Topping. Because what people have desired for lo these many years is even more stuff shoehorned into their music player.
The Burrow! The Weasley's home from the Harry Potter series is what iTunes has become.
Here's what should happen: Apple needs to break apart iTunes into three main sections. Well. It needs to break them apart into any number of sections, but here's my take:
Right now we have the Mac App Store which works the way I'd like to see the iTunes store work: It's a storefront and that's where it ends. A storefront with featured items and charts and such, and a second panel showing purchases and offering the chance to download things again. And that's where it ends. This covers all the things you can buy in iTunes right now: Movies/TV, Music, and iOS Apps. Since not everyone who uses iTunes has an iOS device, perhaps there's a View option that lets you disable certain store panels.
This would be the player of old, a simple and easy to use app for music. Point it at whatever folder or folders, adding music to play is easy, and the streaming/radio options are hanging out in the sidebar (you heard me) so if you want something streaming it's no further away than any of your playlists. That's it! A straight up music player. It would have better integration with the other apps than a substitute player, but for most folks that isn't a big deal.
This is how iOS handles all the different iTunes features, there's no iTunes.
Got an iPhone or an iPad or an iPod or a Watch or…whatever else Apple comes up with? Plug in your device and Manage launches, offering you backup options, configuration for syncing, and options for things like document sharing and factory restore. Simple and straightforward, as it should be.
I imagine it to be like Image Capture. You set it to launch when you plug in a particular device and you're ready to rock the backups or whatever other tasks you have when you plug your device into your Mac. Or maybe it doesn't launch automatically because sometimes you just need your Mac's USB port for charging. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
I have no doubt that other people will think this needs to be set up differently, and that's totally fine too. I think we can all agree that the current system is untenable. Given Apple's otherwise solid track record of relentlessly marching forward, clinging to iTunes like this doesn't make sense to me. Is it sentimental somehow? Don't say it's because iTunes is complicated, because we've seen entirely new products come out since iTunes had its last significant update, and both Mac OS and iOS have been significantly retooled while iTunes has languished.
Maybe this new iTunes ecosystem starts out with iTunes having buttons for each of the separate apps, and when you click on "iPhone" or "Store" the right app launches and you get switched to that, to help show people that these other apps exist and then eventually it's easy to flip back and forth. Right now if all you want to do is rip CDs to your hard drive and play that music, using iTunes for that is swatting a fly with a Buick. Sure it can be done, but it's hardly the right tool for the job.