The Pain of iTunes Can Be Traced to Apple's Time Machine

There was a time when Mac users had ripped a few hundred favorite songs from their CD collection. A laborious process. There was also a time when Time Machine could easily back up a 100 GB hard disk. But time and a failure to scale available technology has left many Apple customers with a huge, purchased iTunes collection that's hard to back up reliably. Apple has been too successful and not successful enough.

It's one thing to back up a user directory on a Mac with a really good, reliable app. Carbon Copy Cloner and Prosoft's Data Backup 3 are two that come to mind, but there are others.

It's quite another thing to back up hundreds of gigabytes of music and videos. Basically, two things have happened. First, Apple has been very successful selling customers music, movies and TV shows. Second, the pricing of that content has made it possible for the average customer to acquire content whose size in gigabytes (or terabytes) outstrips the ability of current backup technology provided by Apple.

I've written before about this problem in "Why Apple’s Time Machine Utterly Fails User Needs." What I haven't discussed is how this failure, in my opinion, appears to be coloring Apple's approach to how to solve the iTunes problem. What I'm referring to is this article.

Sources Insist: iTunes Music Downloads Dead In 2-3 Years…

The article insists that the fact-of in the title is real but is still being debated within Apple.

A great deal depends on how sharply music downloads decline, how quickly streaming accelerates, and how an unstable internal political atmosphere within the company shakes out, the same sources have shared.

In my opinion, the crux of the problem here is that Apple has been too successful in selling customers on content but hasn't stepped up to the plate when it comes to remarkable, robust, "it just works" mechanism to reliably back up all that content. Customers are overwhelmed with a surfeit of data.

The Family Backup Server

Along the way, over the years, there have been a variety of 3rd party backup systems, mostly Network Attached Storage (NAS). Synology and Drobo (fine products) come to mind, but there are others. But the gist of the matter is that average customers are still a little bit afraid of such awesome devices. Especially consumer-grade RAID 5 devices with multiple, hot-swappable drives and Linux operating systems.

Imagine if Apple had taken Time Machine to the next level, used its legacy experience with the Xserve-RAID, and developed a Family Backup Server with incredible ease of use. It would reach out, touch every registered device in the house, and reliably back up it and all its content. A USB 3 port and another attached drive would create a single drive mirror for off-site storage.

Suddenly, everyone's concern about managing and reliably backing up a huge iTunes library would be over.

Apple's own Xserve-RAID from 2003. Discontinued & thrown away.
Today, same storage, but 10% of the price for next generation products.

Solve a Problem by Making it Go Away

Today, Apple itself has enormous data storage capacity. It can stream every song to you that you could listen to in a lifetime. Meanwhile, iTunes is a mess in many ways and, perhaps, beyond fixing. (Although, we got some happy news.) By the way, ignoring music downloads, down the road, doesn't solve the entirety of the gigabytes of video to be stored, but it's conceivable that 4K video, given the file sizes, could suffer the same fate.

Stil, an iTunes UI makeover doesn't mean that Apple isn't paving the way for  simpler days of music streaming alone. There may still come a time when Apple makes the decision that a massive investment in music downloads no longer makes sense—just as it did when .Mac personal home pages were discontinued. Some remaining fraction of customers, perhaps, will have to learn new techniques, find new tools, and work through a process that suits them for all their ripped and downloaded music.

Meanwhile, Apple as always will move relentlessly forward, leaving a trail of much work left undone.


Teaser image via Shutterstock.